June 14, 2006

India to Tighten Laws to Stop Female Infanticide

By Nita Bhalla

NEW DELHI -- India plans to tighten laws banning tests to determine the sex of unborn babies in a bid to curb the killing of thousands of female fetuses, Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said on Wednesday.

India's Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques Act -- which outlaws doctors from carrying out sex determination tests -- has been in force since 1994 but social activists say local authorities lack the will to combat female infanticide.

Besides, families seek sons over daughters and unscrupulous doctors attempt to get around the law, making enforcement difficult, they say.

A joint study carried out by researchers in India and Canada recently suggested that half-a-million unborn girls may be aborted in India every year, with parents preferring boys as being a better asset to the family.

Following a meeting with womens' groups, members of parliament and social activists, Ramadoss told a news conference that a series of amendments aimed at giving the law more teeth were being discussed.

"We are going to take into consideration everyone's view in order to further strengthen the act and its enforcement and implementation," he said. "This is an issue where we need quick action."

Amendments being considered include improved monitoring of deaths of girls across the country, making doctors more accountable, striking them off the medical council if found guilty, and forcing traditionally conservative states to better enforce the law.

Officials say states like Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and also cities like Delhi and Chandigarh are not enforcing legislation and as a result have heavily skewed sex ratios.

"On average in all our states, we have around 924 girls to every 1,000 boys. But in some states like Haryana and Punjab, the ratio of girls has dropped as low as 500 or 600 to every 1,000 boys," Renuka Chowdhury, junior minister for women and child development, told Reuters.

Ramadoss said the central government could take states to court if they didn't enforce the legislation banning sex determination tests.

Another amendment to the law seeks to speed up convictions against those found guilty, he said.

Since the legislation was passed 12 years ago, health officials say there have been 387 cases lodged under the act but only one had resulted in a conviction.