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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 17:11 GMT
India's gender 'holocaust' warning
Ultrasound scan
Families abort unborn girls after a simple scan
test hello test

By Vir Singh
in Badalia Ala Singh village, Punjab
line

The lush green fields around the village of Badalia Ala Singh are living proof of Punjab's status as India's granary.


We are heading towards the greatest holocaust of unborn girls in human history

Sabu George
Girls' rights campaigner

Yet amid this plenty, there is an alarming shortage of girls.

Girls are viewed as a burden in this community of farmers, where in the past some families would ask village midwives to kill a newborn baby if it turned out to be a female.

Now, thanks to ultrasound technology, they do not have to wait so long.

A simple scan can reveal the sex of an unborn baby, and if is a girl, the family is likely to force the mother to undergo an abortion.

Test ban

"We are heading towards the greatest holocaust of unborn girls in human history," said Sabu George, a campaigner for the rights of girls.

children
Campaigners say that attitudes to girls will not change overnight

Sex determination tests were banned in 1994, but they continue to be performed and they are blamed for a dramatic drop in the number of girls.

According to India's 2001 census, nationally there are 927 girls for every 1000 boys up to the age of six, down from 945 in 1991.

Affluent states in the north and west, where ultrasound clinics first sprang up, have the lowest figures.

Punjab is at the very bottom, with just 793 girls for every 1000 boys.

"As the shortage becomes more and more, you will find much, much greater violence against surviving women", said Mr George.

Social workers have found that more rapes and harrassment occur in communities where boys greatly outnumber girls.

Also, young men are finding it increasingly difficult to find brides.

Official apathy

Sex determination tests have intensified discrimination against girls, especially in states like Punjab with greater spending power.

But government officials have largely disregarded the ban.

Not a single person has been convicted in more than seven years despite ample evidence of a flourishing illegal trade.

Now, Mr George and other campaigners have successfully petitioned India's Supreme Court to get state governments to crack down on lawbreakers.

Suppliers of ultrasound machines are required to submit a list of buyers to a specially constituted authority.

State governments must register all machines and also report to the monitoring body.

Offenders 'beware'

Punjab's director of health services for family welfare says the court action has given his department the necessary impetus to finally enforce the law against sex determination tests.

"Now the people who are undergoing this test or are conducting this test, they will be in real trouble," said Dr D P S Sandhu.

"We are educating the people, telling them that girls are looking after the old people better than the boys," he added.


People in this rural area don't think about the long term, about the impact on society

S K Chaudhry
Head teacher

"Now people are realising it and I think there will be a change in the attitude. We have just started this campaign vigorously┐so the result will come up after a year. You will see."

A midwife in Badalia Ala Singh village, Satwant Kaur, said the government should make prosecuting lawbreakers its top priority.

"Instead of spending money on seminars and public meetings, the government should post a reward of Rs 5,000 for anyone who helps to catch offenders. This is the only way to stop this illegal practice," she said.

Greedy doctors

S K Chaudhry, who heads a girls school in the nearby town of Sarhand, agrees.

"People in this rural area don't think about the long term, about the impact on society," she said.

"But doctors are educated. They know this is a bad thing. So we have to implement the law by raiding clinics."

It may take several months, even years, to judge the effectiveness of official measures against testing.

Campaigners like Mr George accept that laws alone cannot change long held beliefs overnight.

But he said the enforcement measures ordered by India's highest court are needed to end the "open promotion" of sex determination tests by greedy doctors.

By implementing the ban, "the government is sending a certain message to the social, moral and legal undesirability of foeticide."

The hope is that if the government leads the way, communities like this one in Punjab will follow.

See also:

12 Feb 02 | South Asia
Indian states gear up for polls
01 Feb 02 | Americas
Foetus definition stirs abortion row
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