Two laws that prohibit the sex selection of a foetus in India are the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP), as amended in 2002, and the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT), as amended in 2002. The former Act prohibits abortion except only in certain qualified situations, while the latter prohibits the sex selection of a foetus with a view towards aborting it.
Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act
Under the Indian Penal Code, causing an abortion, even if caused by the pregnant woman herself, is a criminal offense, unless it is done to save the life of the woman. The offense is punishable by imprisonment for a period of three years, by fine, or by both. The MTP Act provides for an abortion to be performed by a registered medical practitioner in a government hospital provided, in his opinion:
Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act
- Continuance of the pregnancy, (which at the time must not exceed twelve weeks and)
- Involves a risk to the life of the woman or a grave injury to her physical or mental health or,
- There is a substantial risk that the child, when born, would suffer such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.
The PNDT Act of 1994, later amended in 2002, was enacted with the objective to provide for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception, and for regulation of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for the purposes of detecting genetic abnormalities or metabolic disorders or chromosomal abnormalities or certain congenital malformations or sex-linked disorders
and for the prevention of their misuse for sex determination leading to female feticide and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. Thus, the PNDT Act prohibits the use of all technologies for the purpose of sex selection, which would also include the new chromosome separation techniques.
Now, with Union Minister Maneka Gandhi suggesting that sex determination tests should be made compulsory as a means to curb female foeticide, these two acts have come into question and a debate has begun amongst everyone. The PNDT Act, which has been a big failure, was designed to prohibit the determination of sex of the foetus and hence put a stop to female foeticide in the country. Many doctors are of the opinion that instead of eradicating female foeticide from the country, the act has become a tool for harassment of doctors and medical professionals in the country.
While the Ministry for Women and Child Development has clarified that the actual idea was if each pregnancy could be registered and the sex of the foetus could be made known to the parents and if the same happens to be a female, the delivery should be tracked and recorded. Such a system would help in ensuring that a foetus is not aborted only because it is a female. The idea was never meant to be compulsory gender tests on foetuses. However, this idea has got initial support from the Indian Healthcare Sector.
According to leading medical professionals
, “In order to save the girl child, it is important to know the identity of the girl child first. Hence, Compulsory Sex Determination is indeed a better solution to the problem of female foeticide than prohibition. Topping it up with close monitoring can do wonders in curbing female foeticide, which the PNDT act has miserably failed.”
Will Compulsory Sex Determination see the light of the day? The Ministry for Women and Child Development has cleared the air saying it is just a newborn concept which will only be implemented with positive feedback from all over India. Hopefully, this idea do gets implemented so that female to male ratio increases from meagre 918 girls: 1000 boys.