Manish Desai*, Bhavana Gokhale**
Two years ago, Beed in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region made news nationwide on account of heinous crime of female foeticide, leading to a serious crackdown on several medical practitioners. According to 2011 census, Beed recorded a Child Sex Ratio of 796 girls per 1000 boys, much worse than the Child Sex Ratio of 894 forMaharashtra and the all India figure of 914.
Child Sex Ratio is defined as the number of females per 1000 males in the 0 – 6 age group. This ratio, on its own may not be able to present a correct picture of sex ratio as there are instances of under reporting of girls. Therefore, the Sex Ratio at Birth, defined as the number of girls born for every 1000 boys, is considered a more accurate and a refined indicator.
While unplanned pregnancy is generally the reason behind abortions, female foeticide is a far more heinous crime than the age old practice of killing the unwanted child after it was born. Selective elimination of the girl child in the womb itself is done after the determination of child’s gender through the medical means. This is usually done under family pressure from the husband or in-laws or even women’s parents. Sadly a majority of female foeticide cases involve an enthusiastic participation of women – both old and young.
Like many societies around the world, India too is patriarchal in nature. Right from the ancient scriptures, one finds instances were men are glowingly praised as the key to continue family lineage. This results in a fanatic obsession for a male progeny.
A Wake Up Call
Alarm bells began to ring when the rampant practice of pre natal sex selection came to light with the connivance of several reputed medical practitioners in Beed. The Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prevention of Sex Determination) Act, enacted by Parliament of India in 1994, bans use of sex selection techniques before or after conception and prevents the misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion. However, due to laxity in enforcement, the there was no let up in discrimination against the girl child.
The state government woke up to the challenge and announced a slew of measures to stop female foeticide and catch its perpetrators. Teams were formed to crack down on illegal ultrasound centres indulging in sex determination tests. Food & Drug Administration kept a watch on the sale of drugs and medicines required for medical termination of pregnancy. Action was taken against 12 chemists in Beed district who failed to provide satisfactory replies to the show cause notices served upon them.
Awareness is the Key
To supplement the enforcement programme, a massive awareness drive was initiated to drive home the importance of girl child. Besides the public service advertisements broadcast over television and radio, Amir Khan’s TV show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ also helped raise the level of awareness about female foeticide.
Voluntary Organizations (NGOs) came forward to supplement government’s efforts in this girl child mission. In Beed, organizations like ‘Tee Foundation’ and ‘MarathwadaLok Vikas Manch’ came forward to adopt talukas, in a bid to improve child sex ratio. These Voluntary Organizations adopted Shirur-Kasar taluka for a comprehensive survey and provision of necessary support services. “It was a grim scenario when we began our survey in 2011; Beed had a low sex ratio of 733 and it was even worse in Shirur- Kasar taluka, where child sex ratio was only 669” says Dr. Bharati Lavekar of the Tee foundation .
The Voluntary Organizations conducted house to house surveys and listed out the reasons for adverse sex ratio. “After studying the mind-set and the behavioural pattern of villagers, we became convinced that the situation can not be improved merely by enacting laws or conducting television sting operations. We needed to get to the root of the problem and change people’s mindset” adds Dr.Lavekar.
While the government supervised strict enforcement of the PCPNDT Act, holistic health services were made available to pregnant women through regular health check up, vitamin administration and nutrition supplement under the National Rural Health Mission, NRHM. Special training programmes were held for ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) volunteers and Anganwadi Sevikas for skill upgradation. Voluntary Organizations played a key role in inter-personal communication, by reaching out to women during their free time.
To motivate people to raise girl child a fixed deposit scheme under the Balika Suraksha Yojana was introduced. Under this scheme Rs 5000 would be deposited in the name of every girl child born after August 15, 2011 to be held as Fixed Deposit with State Bank of Hyderabad for a term of 18 years. The lump sum money would be payable to the girl on becoming a major, subject to attaining certain minimum educational qualifications.
Sincere efforts of government, voluntary organizations and citizen activists began to show results. A report prepared by the State Health System Resource Centre based on District Health Information System – an online portal for calculating sex ration at birth, had a surprise for everyone associated with the project. Beed district recorded an impressive 159 points jump in sex ratio during 2012 as compared to 2011. According to the NRHM Mission Director for Maharashtra, Vikas Kharge, “awareness drives, stringent enforcement of law, initiation of technology like mother and child tracking system, routine inspection and crackdown on ultra-sound / sonography centres have all resulted in improving the state’s sex ratio at birth. Along with Beed, Parabhani and Aurangabad have also shown improvement.”
At 906 girls per 1000 boys, Beeds sex ratio at birth is now on par, or rather a shade better than the state average. However, activists say there is still a long way to go to catch up with the ideal sex ratio of 951.