Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister, has decided to set up an expert group to examine the new methods being used for gender determination of foetuses to get around the existing regulation of ultra sound machines.
Addressing members of the reconstituted Central Supervisory Board, the highest body overseeing the implementation of the Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 (PC&PNDT Act), here today. Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “While misuse of ultra sound machines is still prevalent because it is cheap, newer medical technologies are increasingly being used in the name of ‘genetic testing’.”
The use of simple blood tests that give away the sex of the foetus represents a new dimension to gender-specific foeticide, the Minister said. At IVF-ART clinics, couples are given the option of accepting or rejecting a foetus depending on the sex. While rules are in place to prevent misuse of ultra-sound machines, very little is known about recent innovations brought to bear on sex selection. Therefore, the Minister has decided to form an expert group to identify the approaches and formulate responses in the form of an Amendment to the Act.
Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “Despite having the PC&PNDT Act for 20 years, the sex ratio has now closed in favour of the girl child. The male to female child ratio was 964 to 1000 in 1971, but Census 2011 has shown it to have fallen to 918.”
The Minister remarked that he is disturbed by the introduction of new technologies, some of which are non-invasive, for the purpose of satisfying the urge to have male progeny. Unless these practices are nipped in the bud, they will become impossible to curb later, he stated.
Dr Harsh Vardhan said that the government is committed to upholding the September 2014 Order of the Supreme Court. He said he would write to the Chief Ministers of the states on the need for ensuring better functioning of state and district appropriate committees empowered under the PC&PNDT Act to supervise and book offenders. There is also need to involve Members of Parliament to keep a check on the implementation of the committees in their constituencies.
Simultaneously, he has decided to convene a bigger meeting of stakeholders to brainstorm and develop effective systems against the malpractices. “It is clear that the focus on the providers of sex selection services has not worked through 20 years. We need to go into the root cause and build up a social movement,” he pointed out.
The meeting was co-chaired by Smt. Maneka Sanjay Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development. Addressing the members, the Minister said that 100 districts spread over Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra have been selected for the Beti Bachao-Beti Padao campaign.
She pointed out that it is mainly the upper middle and rich classes who avail sex selection methods. They have a preference for fewer children and that too children who are male. She asked gynaecologists not to pander to their demands.
Smt. Maneka Sanjay Gandhi said on the occasion that several amendments are necessary in the PS&PNDT Act and hoped the Ministry of Health would provide the technical inputs.
Others who attended the meeting included Mr Lov Verma, Union Health Secretary, Mr V.S. Oberoi, Secretary, WCD, Dr Jagdish Prasad, Director –General of Health Services, Dr Kamal Buckshee, eminent gynaecologist and obstetrician, Dr Ratna Jain, Mayor of Kota, Ms. Vani Tripathi Tickoo, eminent social scientist, Dr Suchitra N. Pandit, President, Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecological Societies of India, Dr Marsi Mishra, Centre for Social Research, Dr Rakesh Kumar, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Mrs Ena Singh of UNFPA, Dr Rajnikant H. Contractor, eminent gynaecologist and representatives of the National Commission of Women, and the governments of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Jharkhand.
Dr Harsh Vardhan pointed out that a communication strategy should be developed which would make people value the girl child more. “Having laws is not enough. We should end the system of discrimination against women in society which often causes people to abort female foetuses.”