Literature on Female Foeticide
In India female infanticide is increasingly replaced by so called more humane (but equally gendered) way of sex selection and selective abortions through the (mis)use of reproductive technologies. In regions where patriarchy is unchecked, girl children are still considered as a burden and their health and life still remain at risk Plechner (2000) argues that patriarchal states often collude with violence against women, either through acts of commission or through crimes of omission. The culling of the female unborn is an example to both patterns. The practice of sex selection has to be understood from the stand point of the deteriorating position of women.
Discrimination against the girl child has had a long history in India manifesting in son preference, decline in child sex ratio, high female mortality, female infanticide and foeticide. Patriarchal gender norms and differential gender value systems contribute to strong prejudices against the girl child, rendering women faceless, and, to the denial of reproductive rights of women and the rights of the girl child. Where earlier, people resorted to female infanticide to do away with the unwanted female child, innovations and the fast pace of change in technology has led to a transition from female infanticide to sex selection to preconception. Methods such as sperm selection are gaining prominence. It cannot be denied that the speed of technology with which female elimination takes place fuels a sense of helplessness.
( Patel: 2003)
At the same time Vina Mazumdar warned that it would be 'historically wrong to connect sex selection and female infanticide' as the present trend in sex selection is directly linked to the arrival and availability of technology. Sex selection had to be framed as a new issue. The practice of female infanticide of the past was geographically limited and restricted to certain communities. But the practice of sex selection is widespread, occurring in regions where female infanticide was unheard of, son preference was relatively low and where women were relatively better off. This is due to the act that the medical fraternity in India has been quick to see entrepreneurial opportunities in catering to the insatiable demand for a male child. Until recently, the technology was prohibitively expensive.
The ABC of Sex Selection
The three chief pre-natal diagnostic tests that are being used to determine the sex of a fetus are amniocentesis, chronic villi biopsy (CVB) and ultrasonography. Amniocentesis is meant to be used in high-risk pregnancies, in women over 35 years. CVB is meant to diagnose inherited diseases like thalassaemia, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. Ultrasonography is the most commonly used technique. It is non-invasive and can identify up to 50 per cent of abnormalities related to the central nervous system of the fetus. But sexing has become its preferred application.
Sex selection first became possible in the 1970s with the advent of amniocentesis technology. Punjab led the way, advertising the first commercial amniocentesis facility in 1979, the newspapers openly advertised the New Bhandari Ante-natal Sex Determination Clinics, which served to draw public attention to the spread of this phenomenon. Also used extensively in the early days of sex selection is a technique known as chorionic villus sampling. This was soon replaced from the 1980s onwards with the much less invasive and much less expensive ultrasonography. The spread of information about the technology and the easy access to inexpensive ultrasounds, sex selection, once restricted to the economically prosperous, was by the end of the 1980s a mass phenomenon. Newspaper articles highlighted the availability of mobile sex selection facilities in the small towns of Haryana.(Retherford, R. and Roy, T.K. 2003:NFHS 21) They not only offered sex determination tests but also offered immediate abortions. Today the technology is widely available in rural and urban areas.
The most disturbing evidence was presented in a study conducted by a subcommittee of the Federation of Obstetricians' and Gynaecologists' Societies of India. Out of 8,000 cases, the study reported that 7,999 were aborted when the test results showed a female fetus (Ravindra 1986:21). Another survey was done by Professor R. P. Ravindra on 1000 cases in Bombay, he could not find a single case of a male fetus being aborted, whereas 97 percent of the fetuses identified as female were aborted (Ravindra 1986:9). Finally, another set of comprehensive results was produced by Sanjeev Kulkarni , in his study where he interviewed fifty gynecologists Eighty-four percent of the doctors performed amniocentesis. Eighty-seven percent of them have been performing these tests over the last five years. On an average, 42 doctors, between them perform 271 sex determination tests per month, while 64.37% of doctors perform the tests solely for sex determination. According to 73.8% of the doctors, 51-100% of the women who come for sex determination tests belonged to the middle class. According to a big majority of the doctors, the tests are accurate in 95-100% of the cases. Most of the doctors said that the majority of the women who come for sex determination have two or three daughters. It was estimated that about 50,000 sex-selective abortions were taking place annually in Bombay by 1987. There were 250 clinics in Bombay alone and 600 in the whole state of Maharashtra (Health Monitor: 1988)
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