The undersigned women’s organizations and right to health groups across India express their deep dismay at the recent statement made by the Hon. Minister for Women and Child, Mrs Maneka Gandhi proposing that sex determination tests be conducted on pregnant women, each pregnancy put on record and then pregnancies monitored to ensure that the foetus was not aborted in case it was a female.
It is extremely distressing that a senior government official such as the Hon. Minister should make a statement in contravention of the PC-PNDT Act (1994, rev 2003) where the disclosure of the sex of the foetus is itself the prime offence. Moreover where the Act talks of strict penalties against the diagnostic facilities and practitioners who do not comply with the legal requirements, the Hon. Minister expresses reluctance to ‘keep arresting’ ultrasound owners and involved medical personnel who make profits from sex determination tests.
Civil society groups also express astonishment at such a proposal emerging from the Ministry for Women and Child which will severely curtail women’s rights to bodily autonomy and ability to access essential maternal healthcare, such as safe and legal abortion services or post-abortion care in case of miscarriages
It is possible that many women who need an ultrasound or a safe abortion for many other reasons apart from sex selection, would find themselves being denied these services. The Hon. Minister must be aware that unsafe abortions significantly contribute to the very high maternal deaths in India, and such rules will contribute to further maternal deaths. We need to move towards greater empowerment and autonomy for all our citizens and a fulfilment of their human rights, and not move back into an era where vigilante behaviour was encouraged and our bodies and lives were not in our control.
The groups recommend that we look deeper for reasons that compel families to opt for only male children, and consider daughters a burden. Towards addressing deep gender discrimination in our society we must have in place a rights-based approach to address the issue of gender-biased sex selection that respects women’s rights as an individual, fulfils her rights to health and protects her decision-making about her body.
Jashodhara Dasgupta. Convenor, National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights
/ Healthwatch Forum UP
Anubha Rastogi, National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights
Dr. Vandana Prasad, National Convenor, Public Health Resource Network
Renu Khanna, SAHAJ /JSA/ CommonHealth
Rupsa Mallik & Surabh Srivastava, CREA New Delhi