Statement of Intent

Pratigya: The Campaign for Gender Equality focuses upon finding common ground that simultaneously addresses the serious issue of gender biased sex selection while protecting women’s right to safe, legal abortion services in India.

Gender Biased Sex Selection

Deep rooted patriarchal values within Indian society deny many girls and women their right to nutrition, education, economic opportunity etc. They are not empowered to make informed decisions regarding health, fertility and well-being, with the existing social, political and economic institutions failing to provide an enabling environment to help them exercise their rights.

dicsrThe ratio of girls to boys at birth and in early childhood is a powerful demographic indicator which has implications on the future well-being of the nation. While in most developed countries these sex ratios are favourable towards females, in India and other south/ south-east Asian countries, the ratios have been reversed. Indian census (2011) data reveals a dismal child (0-6 years) sex ratio of 914 females per 1000 males. This is down from 927 in 2001 and 945 in 1991, and is a strong indicator of prenatal sex selection as well as postnatal gender discrimination.

In India, family and social pressures to produce a son are immense. Gender biased sex selection in favour of boys is a symptom of pervasive social, cultural, political and economic inequalities that women and girls face, and a stark manifestation of gender discrimination. In recent times it has been perpetuated by the misuse of diagnostic technologies coupled with unethical medical practice.

The misuse of pre-natal diagnostic techniques to determine the sex of the foetus and selectively terminate pregnancies involving a female foetus first came into limelight in the late 1970s. Civil society groups organised themselves to prevent such misuse as early as in 1982. The Bombay-based Forum Against Sex Determination and Sex Pre-Selection came into existence in 1985. It was one of the main factors behind the “Maharashtra Regulation of Use of Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1988.”

Following this, the Government of India passed the “Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques (Regulation and Prevention) of Misuse Act, 1994”. The Act aimed at providing regulation for the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for the purpose of detecting genetic abnormalities or certain congenital malformations or sex linked disorders and for the prevention of misuse of such techniques for the purposes of sex determination. The Act was amended to the “The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of sex selection) Act, 2003”, to bring pre-conception sex selection techniques within its purview.

The PCPNDT Act of 2003 prohibits the determination and disclosure of the sex of the foetus , through use of pre-conception or prenatal diagnostic techniques. It also bans any advertisement related to pre-conception or pre-natal sex-determination of sex and prescribes punishments for violators. As the law stands today, there is a two-fold objective to be achieved. The first being the regulation of pre-natal diagnostic procedures/ tests and secondly, a total prohibition on “sex selection” a term defined to denote any kind of pre-conception test for the purpose of sex selection. The intent of this law is to correct the imbalance in the sex ratio of men and women in India and to attempt to discourage son preference.

Access to Safe Abortion

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP Act) entitles women in India access to safe abortion services. MTP Act lays down the criteria for which a pregnancy can be terminated, by whom, where and upto which gestational age. Medical termination includes abortions performed by qualified health providers using surgical methods as well as by using medical abortion drugs (mifepristone and misoprostol). However, awareness of the legality is seriously lacking among women in the community as well as community health workers.

It is a well-documented fact that safe abortions are not available to millions of women in India who need them. More than 80 percent of women in the country still do not know that abortion is legal and available. Add to this the fact that abortion is highly stigmatized in the socio-cultural context, leading many women to seek abortions that are unsafe and not performed by trained and qualified providers or in proper health care settings.

Increasingly women are being forced to self-medication by purchasing medical abortion drugs over the counter due to lack of access to safe, affordable and sensitive abortion services in the public or private sector.

In the absence of concrete data, it has been estimated that at least 6.4 million abortions take place in India each year. Half of these (around 3.6 million) are unsafe – performed in unhygienic conditions by untrained providers .Unsafe and septic abortions continue to contribute to the top 5 causes of maternal deaths in the country and countless cases of morbidity too. The groups of women who are most affected and victims of unsafe abortion are the socio-economically poor women, young women; and rural women.

In a social setting where women have very little negotiation powers over their own body in terms of being able to refuse sex or access effective methods of contraception, access to safe abortion gives them some control over their reproductive decisions and must be ensured as a health and rights issue.

Conflation of the two issues resulting in the creation of barriers to access safe abortion services

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 and the PCPNDT Act are very distinct in what they legislate. However, those working for the implementation of the two laws often conflate the two issues resulting in the creation of barriers to access safe abortion services. Estimates indicate that only 4-15% per cent of all abortions in the country are due to sex selection . The remaining number of abortions takes place because the pregnancy is unwanted for a variety of reasons.

The key concern being that while the law looks at sex selection and safe abortion as mutually exclusive issues, there is significant conflation in implementation and this has implications on women’s right to safe, legal abortion services.

The key concern being that while the law looks at sex selection and safe abortion as mutually exclusive issues, there is significant conflation in implementation and this has implications on women’s right to safe, legal abortion services.

What does the Campaign Pratigya focus on?

Signatories of the campaign believe that:

  • Issues of gender inequality and gender discrimination that impact on both abortion and sex selection have to be tackled with utmost seriousness.
  • Sex selection has to be dealt with as an issue of gender discrimination at its worst, addressing its structural causes. In the short run, sex determination through the misuse of technology should become the point of intervention, and not prevention of abortion.
  • There is a need to clarify the difference between the two issues i.e. the cause of gender biased sex selection and right to access safe abortion and each of them should be addressed separately.
  • We need to create common ground between the discourse on women’s right to safe abortion and the discourse on prevention of sex selection.

The campaign addresses the two issues with equal regard for their importance to the lives of women and girls. If you believe in Pratigya’s intent, we would welcome you to join and strengthen the campaign by filling in the registration form provided in the campaign website.

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  1. Except for restricted medical conditions
  2. Duggal R, Ramachandran V. The Abortion Assessment Project- India; Key Findings and Recommendations. Reproductive Health Matters, Volume 12 Issue 24,2004.122-129
  3. Jha P.et al Trends in selective abortion of girls: Analysis of nationally representative birth histories from 1990 to 2005 and census data from 1991 to 2011. Published online May 24,2011 www.thelancet.com

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