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Friday, July 20, 2012

Rights of Girl Children in crisis: Can legislation ensure life, survival and dignity of girl children in Odisha?

The Constitution of India provides a protective umbrella for rights of woman and children. The Constitution guarantees right to equality (Article 14), forbids any form of discrimination based on sex (Article 15), providing the State to make any special provision for women and children (Clause 3 of Article 15), right to live and personal liberty includes right of an unborn child (Article 16). The State shall secure that the health and strength of women and children (Article 39 (e)). The law recognizes legal personality to unborn children for many purposes like the Hindu Law equated person in a womb to a person in existence for many purposes, transfer of Property Act, 1882. An unborn child is entitled for legal protection under the Indian Penal Code.

Although girl children are protected under law, data of census 2011 revealed steep decline in Child Sex Ratio (CSR) in India including the State of Odisha, which had a better CSR few decades ago. At present the sex ratio of Odisha remains at 978, where as the CSR stands at all-time low of 934.The skewed sex distribution is attributed sophisticated diagnostic techniques used for pre-natal sex determination and pre-conception sex selection. Though meant for legitimate medical purposes and aimed at strengthening sexual and reproductive health choices of women, some of these technologies are commonly being misused to determine sex of the foetus, sometimes even before it is conceived. Though it is believed that traditional prescriptions, procedures and practices belong to ancient times are also used for sex selection, preference for a son has suddenly become easier to exercise with use of technology.

Sex selective elimination of foetus is the worst form of gender discrimination which leads to abnormal CSR and is more vulnerable in affluent, educated and developed communities, societies and states. This is evident in states like Punjab, Haryana, Delhi etc. where the CSR is more at risk. This contradicts any hypotheses that may suggest that sex selection is an archaic practice which takes place among uneducated and poor sections of the society. These realities together as a body of gender discriminatory practices have kept women disempowered, leading to skewed sex ratios over the years in many parts of the country including Odisha.

Sex selection as a manifestation and cause of the devalued and subordinate status of women in our society has been recognized as grave enough to merit a dedicated legislative intervention. The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) (PNDT) Act, 1994, amended and renamed as the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) (PCPNDT) Act in 2003, is a legal tool based on the principle of deterrence that aims to regulate and prevent misuse of diagnostic techniques to determine sex of the foetus. Many experts view the Act as different from other social legislations, given the fact that it not only involves change in social behaviour and practices, but also requires a strengthening of ethical medical practice and the regulation of medical technologies to avoid their misuse.

In the above premises, can the rights of girl children be ensured with the help of legislation? Will they be allowed to be born? To mention, it is the State with a highly balanced sex ratio few decades back.

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