India has a legacy of biases against the girl child, as illustrated by continuing discrimination in receiving health and nutrition as well as education. Advanced technology provides sophisticated methods of sex selection, which has led to a drastic fall in the child sex ratio through sex selective elimination of the girl child before birth.
The process began in the early 1990’s when ultrasound techniques gained widespread use in India. There was a tendency to continuously produce children until a male child was born. Social discrimination against women and a preference for sons have promoted female foeticide in various forms skewing the sex ratio of the country towards men. According to the decennial Indian census, the sex ratio in the 0-6 age group in India went from 104.0 males per 100 females in 1981 to 109.4 in 2011. The main purpose of enacting the act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion.
The Supreme Court, taking a serious view of the onslaught of sex-selective discriminatory practices by the medical fraternity, and the connection it may have with the use of pre-natal sex determination, directed the Centre to implement the PCPNDT Act in all its aspect.
Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act , 1994 (PNDT) was amended in 2003 to The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act) to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection.
Misusing technology has played a crucial role in reinforcing negative patriarchal systems that demand male heirs. In fact, developments in technology of sex selection techniques have a direct relation to the declining juvenile sex ratio in the country. About 78,000 female foetuses were aborted after sex determination tests from 1984-1985, according to a Times of India article. ( Achin Vanaik, TOI, June, 1986).
The Act and the campaign for its implementation are not against technology per se, but demand the ethical use of pre-natal diagnostic technology. Medical professionals hooked on to new technologies have closed their eyes to the larger context, future implications and gender implications of their actions. Such doctors have to understand that technology does not exist in a vacuum. Technology plays a major role in public health. It is also true that women should have the right to abortion. Abortion is legal in India under certain circumstances, but sex selection is not. Therefore, if technology is used to only selectively eliminate the female foetus, then doctors need to question the use of this technology.
Amniocentesis was first introduced in India in 1975 by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, for detecting congenital deformities in a foetus. By the mid-1980’s, it was largely being misused to determine the sex of the unborn child and to carry out sex selective abortions. Needless to say, the girl child was the obvious target.
Given the socio-cultural patriarchal structures and the skewered economic context that saw sons as an investment and daughters as a burden, it was not surprising that even technology was being harnessed to eliminate the girl child.
And it is for this very reason – to save the girl child – that the PCPNDT Act was enforced in India, and the gender of an unborn baby is not disclosed, not even to the parents.