India: Authorities Struggle to Enforce Sex Selection Ban
Monday, January 4, 2010 4:15 PM

4 January 2010

Recent investigation by the Inter Press Service IPS has shown that India’s gender ratio continues to be highly skewed due to sex selection practices.  Although the Pre-Conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PNDT) Act of 2003 banned sex determination tests in India and their promotion through advertising, authorities have had difficulty enforcing the ban due to internet advertising and advances in medical technology.

The PNDT Act was passed in response to an increasingly large skew in India’s gender ratio.  The 2001 Indian census showed that only 927 girls were being born for every 1,000 boys. Rights and gender activists believe this gap is due to traditional preferences for male children and affordable medical technology such as ultrasounds which allow easy determination of the sex of an unborn child.  A recent study in the British medical journal ‘The Lancet’ linked the development of the ultrasound to the abortion of as many as 10 million female fetuses in India during the past two decades. (IPS)

In addition to using ultrasound to determine the sex and aborting unwanted female fetuses, new medical technologies such as pre-implementation genetic diagnosis and sperm separation have provided new ways to screen out female embryos.  An anonymous Indian doctor who offers such in vitro services explained that using fertility clinics to select male embryos is considered “easier than waiting 16 weeks to determine the sex of the fetus using ultrasound and then aborting it.” (IPS)

Authorities have also struggled to block international websites which promote pre-conception and prenatal sex determination. Popular international search engines such as Google and Yahoo continue show ads which offer a variety of gender determination services, including many by companies based in the U.S. which offer kits for self-testing through blood or urine samples.  As one of the few countries where sex-selection is illegal, it is difficult for India to interfere with internet ads which are intended for couples in other countries where such procedures are legal.

It is hoped that government initiatives which provide monetary assistance to couples with female children will enhance the social status of girl children and improve the gender ratio, but activists insist that stronger government measures, including active steps against internet advertising and enforcing the ban on using medical technology to determine gender, will also be needed in order to stem the tide of sex selection in India.

Compiled from: Inter Press Service,Rights-India: Hi-Tech Beats Sex Selection Ban” (22 December 2009).