Abortion of female foetus is called female foeticide. This is a major social
problem in India and has cultural connections with the dowry system that is
ingrained in the Indian culture, despite the fact that it has been prohibited by
law since 1961. In India, unlike any Western culture, strong preference for sons
over daughters exists. Pregnancies are planned by resorting to differential contraception
- contraception is used based
on the number of surviving sons irrespective of family size. Following
conception, foetal sex is determined by
pre-natal diagnostic techniques after which female foetuses are aborted.
Foetal sex determination and
sex- selective abortion by medical professionals has grown into 1,000 crore industry (US$244 million). Social discrimination against women and a preference for sons have been promoted. Since 1991,
80% of districts in India have recorded an increasingly masculine sex ratio
with the state of Punjab having the most masculine sex ratio.
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 105.8 in 1991, to 107.8 in 2001, to 109.4 in 2011. The ratio is significantly higher in certain states such as Punjab and
Magnitude of The Problem
It is estimated that more
than 10 million female foetuses have been illegally aborted in India. Researchers for the Lancet journal based in
and India stated that 500,000 girls were being lost annually through sex-selective abortion.
-natal sex-determination was banned in India in 1994, under the Pre-conception
and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection)
Act . The act aims to prevent sex-selective abortion, which, according to the
Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, "has its roots in India‘s long history of strong
patriarchal influence in all spheres of life."
It is most prominent in Gujarat
and the North Indian states, which according to census data3havean alarmingly low ratio of female children. Certain castes regularly practiced female
infanticide and later female foeticide. The castes with a much lower proportion of female children to male children included lew
apatidars and the rajputs in Gujarat; I, Khutris and Moyal Brahmins in
undivided Punjab, and Rajputs & Gujars in UttarPradesh. 2
This process began in the early 1990s when ultrasound techniques gained widespread use in India. There was tendency for families to continuously produce children until a male child was born. This was primarily due to the large sexist culture that exists in India
against women. This is reflected by literacy rates among women as well as economic
participation, which are both particularly low in states
where female foeticide is prominent and an unequal population ratio
exists alongside. The government initially supported the practice to control
population growth. The Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act
was passed in 1994, making sex-selective abortion illegal. It was then
amended in 2003 holding medical professionals legally responsible. However,
the PCPNDT Act has been poorly enforced by authorities.
1. The root cause of female foeticide is the dowry system
in our society. A number of girls are killed inside the
womb due to fear of dowry by many poor class families. They are worried about giving the dowry during the marriage of their girls, which poor people can’t afford.
2. Girls are considered as financial obligation by many parents. They
conceive that money spend on
a girl will be total waste as she will go to her in-law‘s home after the marriage. According to Hindu‘s mythology, birth of
a boy is considered as path to
heaven. Being trapped in such orthodox ideas the girls are put to
death before their birth.
3. The other root cause
of female foeticide is rise in the inflation. Due to rise in inflation parents think hundred times before giving birth to a girl
child. They worry about the educating and marrying their daughter.
4. The advancement in technology is the major
cause of female foeticide. Nowadays parent determines the sex of
a child before birth and kill if not according to their choice.
5. Corruption is another major factor in the
rise of female foeticide. Some of the doctors do this heinous act to fulfill
Consequences And Social Effects of Female Foeticide
Due to female foeticide there is steep decrease in the female‘s population.
Due to which it
is becoming difficult to find girls for marriage. This in turn leads to girl‘s
trafficking. According to news girls from Assam and West Bengal are kidnapped and sold in Haryana
for marriage, where the child sex ratio is least in the country.
Due to diminution in the female’s population our society is becoming male dominant,
which is not a good indication. As the decrease in number of women,
men consider themselves more
superior and above law, which in turn results in women‘s exploitation.
Female foeticide has led to an increase in human trafficking. In 2011, 15,000
Indian women were bought and sold as brides in areas where foeticide has led to lack of women.
1. There should be registration of all
the nursing homes and rigorous action should be taken against the defaulters.
2. Government must deploy national wide campaign to spread cognizance among
the people. They should aware the people about the
importance of girls and should not consider them as stigma to their families.
3. More reservation should be given to the girls in education. Government
should provide financial support to those families who are not
able to educate their children.
Proper measures should be taken to implement anti dowry law and culprits
should be punished. Government should provide financial support for the marriage
of girls belonging to poor families.
5. Emphasis should be given to women empowerment. Women education will help
in eradicating this problem. As the women will become independent,
they can take decision according to their volition.
6. There is a need of remove the myth of son preference from our
society only then this problem can be tackled.
Creating Social Awareness
Increasing awareness of the problem has led to multiple campaigns by celebrities and journalists to combat sex-selective abortions. Aamir
Khan devoted the first episode Daughters Are Precious of his show Satyamev
Jayate4 to raise awareness of this widespread practice, focusing primarily on Western Rajasthan, which is known to be one of the areas where this practice is common.9 Rapid response was shown by local government in Rajasthan after the airing of this show, showing the
effect of media and nationwide awareness on the
issue. A vow was made by officials to set up fast-
track courts to punish those who practice sex-based abortion. They
cancelled the licenses of six sonography centers and issued notices to over 20
others. This has been done on the smaller scale. Cultural intervention has been
addressed through theatre. Plays such as Pacha Mannu, which is about female infanticide/foeticide, has been produced by
a women's theatre group in Tamil Nadu. This play was showing mostly in communities that practice female infanticide/foeticide and
has led to a redefinition of a methodology of consciousness raising, opening
up varied ways of understanding and subverting cultural expressions.
The Beti Bachao, or Save girls campaign, has been underway in
many Indian communities since the early20thcentury. The campaign uses the media to raise awareness of the gender disparities
creating, and resulting from, sex-selective abortion. Beti Bachao activities include rallies, posters, short
videos and television commercials, some of which are sponsored by state and
local governments and
other organizations. Many celebrities in India have publicly supported the Beti
Laws In India For The Unborn
The Constitution of India, 1950
Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code
1860 read with the Medical termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 where all
the restrictions imposed therein, including the time limit of
20 weeks, other than the ones to ensure good medical conditions, infringe the right to abortion and the right to health,
which emanate from right to life as guaranteed
under Article 21 of the Constitution. Right to abortion is a species of right to privacy, which is again
proclaimed a continuance of the right to life under Art 21
of the Constitution.
The Indian Penal Code, 1860
Sections 312-316 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deal with
miscarriage and death of an unborn child and depending on the
severity and intention with which the crime is committed, the penalties
range from seven years of imprisonment and fine to life imprisonment.
Section 312. Causing miscarriage
Whoever voluntarily causes a woman with child to miscarry, shall,
if such miscarriage be not caused in good faith for the purpose of saving the life of the
woman, be punished
with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both,
and, if the woman be quick with child, shall be punished
with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven
years, and shall also be liable to fine. Explanation:-A woman who causes herself to miscarry, is within the meaning of this section.
Section 313. Causing miscarriage without woman's consent
Whoever commits the offence defined in the last preceding
section without the consent of the woman, whether
the woman is quick with child or not, shall be punished
with [imprisonment for life] or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to
Section 314. Death caused by act done with intent to cause miscarriage
Whoever, with intent to cause the miscarriage of woman with child, does any act which causes the death
of such woman, shall be punished
with imprisonment of either description for a term may extend to ten years,
and shall also be liable to fine.
If the act is done without the consent of the
woman, shall be punished either with [imprisonment for life]or with the punishment above mentioned.
Explanation: - It is not essential to this offence that the
offender should know that the act is likely to cause death.
Section 315. Act done with intent to prevent child being born alive or to cause
it to die after birth.
Whoever before the birth of any child does any act
with the intention of thereby preventing that child from being born alive or causing it to die
after its birth, and does by such
prevent that child from being born alive, or causes it to die
after its birth, shall, if such act
be not caused in good faith for the purpose of saving the life of the
mother, be punished
with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to
ten years or with fine.
Section 316. Causing death of quick unborn child by act amounting to culpable
Whoever does any act under such circumstances, that if he thereby
caused death he would be guilty of culpable homicide, and does
by such act cause the death of a quick unborn child, shall be punished
with imprisonment of either description for a term which
may extend to ten years.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was conceived as a
tool to let the pregnant
women decide on the number and frequency of children. It further gave them the right to decide on having or not having the child. However, this good intentioned step
was being misused to force women to abort the female child. In order to do away with the lacunae inherent
in previous legislation, the Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques
(Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act
was passed in 1994, which came into force in January 1996. The Act prohibited
determination of sex of the
foetus and stipulated punishment for the violation of provisions thereof. It also provided for
mandatory registration of genetic
counselling centres, clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.
The Pre-Conception And Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation And
Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994
To combat the practice of female foeticide in the country through misuse
of technology, done surreptitiously with the
active connivance of the service providers
and the persons seeking such service, the Pre-natal Diagnostic
Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act
was enacted on September 20, 1994. The Act
was amended in 2003 to improve regulation of technology capable of
sex selection and to
arrest the decline in the child sex ratio as revealed by the Census 2001 and with effect from 14.02.2003, due to the
the Act is known as the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic
Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act,1994.
The main purpose of enacting the PC&PNDT (prohibition of Sex Selection) Act,
1994 has been to:
i. Ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after
ii. Prevent the misuse of
pre-natal diagnostic techniques for sex selective abortions.
iii. Regulate such techniques Stringent punishments have been prescribed under the
using pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostic techniques to illegally determine the sex
of the foetus.
Authorities Empowered and pertinent:
# The appropriate Authorities at the District and State levels are empowered to search, seize and seal the
machines, equipments and records of the violators.
# The sale of certain diagnostic
equipment is restricted only to the bodies registered under the Act.
# Government has also taken various steps to
support implementation of the legislation, including through
constitution of a National Inspection &Monitoring Committee (NIMC), Central and State Supervisory Boards, capacity building of implementing agencies, including the judiciary and public prosecutors and community awareness generation through PRIs and community health workers such as Auxiliary Nursing Midwives (ANMs) and
Accredited Social Health Activists(ASHAs).
# The Act has a central and state level Supervisory Board, an Appropriate Authority, and supporting
Advisory Committee. The function of the Supervisory Board is to oversee, monitor, and
make amendments to the provisions of the Act.
Appropriate Authority provides registration, and
conducts the administrative work involved in inspection, investigation, and the penalizing of defaulters.
# The Advisory committee provides expert and technical support
to the Appropriate Authority.
i. Sec. 6 of the said Act, clearly says that determination of
sex is prohibited.
ii. Sec. 22 prohibits
advertisements relating to pre-natal determination of sex and punishment
iii. Sec. 23 (3) of the
said Act, lays down that any person who seeks the aid of a genetic counseling centre, a genetic laboratory or
a genetic clinic, or of a medical geneticist, gynecologist or registered
for applying pre-natal diagnostic techniques on any pregnant
women (unless there is evidence she was compelled to undergo such diagnostic techniques) for purposes other than those specified, shall be punishable
with imprisonment for a term that may extend to 3 years
and with a fine which may extend to Rs.10,000 and any
subsequent conviction may involve imprisonment which may extend to 5 years and a fine of up toRs.50,000.
Before conducting any prenatal diagnostic procedure, the medical
practitioner must obtain a written consent from the pregnant
woman in a local language that she understands. Prenatal
tests may be performed in various specified circumstances, including risk of chromosomal abnormalities in the case
of women over 35, and genetic diseases evident in the family history of the couple.
A Survey of The Implementation of The Act
A survey was conducted to assess the implementation of the
1994 Act in South Delhi and to make recommendations for its improvement. When
examined, it had been found that that there is serious failure of management and
severe lack of knowledge regarding the Act.
The presence of individuals outside the medical
profession, in particular those involved with human rights, would have helped to prevent
fraternity bias – an unwillingness to bring medical colleagues to account.
The survey of patient attitudes showed that only40%
of male patients and 30% of female patients were
aware of the prohibition of
sex determination. While 90% purported to agree with the principle of the Act, they nevertheless maintained that a male child was important for the strengthening of thefamily.5
Enforcement and effectiveness:-
Reproductive choices of women are supported in
India. The medical termination of pregnancy Act is legal and it allows for induced abortions
where pregnancy carries grave injury to women‘s health. People made the
misuse of the Act of making sex determination of foetuses. Ultra sound machines
continued to be widely available and simple to use. Unsurprisingly, the
enforcement, if law becomes weak. There is still utmost controversy as
to whom will serve as the watch dog to control the misuse of the practice of female foeticide and its implementation
is difficult and considering it can only be the doctor who carries
out the abortion or mother of the foetus who can
who can be punished. There always remains a political influence from
implementing law. Experience has shown that in general
the role of legislation is subverting a social practice is limited.
The ministry of health and family welfare had proposed a
series of amendment to the 1994 Act. The act was amended in 2002 and in 2003 Rules was framed by the central government under sec
of the Act. These rules may be called Pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostic techniques (Prohibition of
sex selection) rules1996.
Government Action-Plan And Policy Framework
National Plan of Action exclusively for the girl child(1991-2000)13was
formulated in 1992 for the "Survival, Protection and Development of the Girl Children". The Plan recognized
the rights of the girl child to equal opportunity, to be free
from hunger, illiteracy, ignorance and exploitation. Towards ensuring
survival of the girl child, the objectives are to:
· Prevent cases
of female foeticide and infanticide and ban the practice of amniocentesis for sex
· End gender disparity in infant mortality rate; eliminate gender disparities in feeding practices, expand nutritional
interventions to reduce severe malnourishment by half and provide supplementary nutrition to adolescent girls indeed;
· Reduce deaths due to diarrhoea by 50% among girl children under 5 years
and ensure immunization against all forms of serious illnesses; and
provide safe drinking water and ensure access to fodder and drinking water
Balika Samriddhi Yojana:
The Yogna has been implemented for the purpose of:
1. To change the negative attitude of family and community
2. To improve enrolment and retention of children in schools
3. To raise the marriage age of girls.
4. To facilitate income opportunities to girl child.
Besides having specific legislation and policy proclamations to deal with this
menace, the precipitating factors such as dowry, poverty, and woman’s economic
dependence etc., leading to the problem of foeticide and infanticide have been
addressed by enacting various legislations as:
# Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961(Amended in1986);
# Hindu Marriage Act,1955;
# Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act,1956;
# Immoral Traffic Prevention Act,1986
# Equal Remuneration Act,1976.
It is sincerely hoped that such measures would equip women to exercise their rights. The Ministry of State for
Health and Family Welfare is also embarking on a massive national
level awareness and sensitisation programme on
a sustained basis to check female foeticide. Non-government organisations,
media, entertainment industry,
spiritual leaders, medical fraternity and youth will be involved in a big way as agents of social change in the campaign. Deterrence (enforcing the
law), counselling (community education) peer pressure (holding last rites after abortions to unnerve the family and doctors) and incentives for informers can
be used as effective tools to bring about an appreciable change in attitude.
Recent Reports Relating To Female Foeticide In India
Study shows girls increasingly aborted in India
More and more Indian families with
one girl are aborting subsequent pregnancies when prenatal tests
show another female is on the way, according to a new study. The
decline in the number of girls is more pronounced in richer and better educated households, according to
research published May 26, 2011 in the medical
journal Lancet. The study said
that between 4 million and 12 million girls are thought have been
aborted from 1980 to20106 .
Raw data from India's
census released in March1980 showed 914 girls under the age 6 for every 1,000 boys. A
decade ago, many were horrified when the
ratio was 927 to 1,000. The ratio was 906 girls under 6 to every 1,000 boys in 1990 and
had declined further by
2005, when it was 836 to every 1,000. The study was led by Prof. Prabhat Jha of the Centre for Global Health Research, Dalla Lana School of the University of Toronto
and other researchers, including the former registrar general of India, Jayant
Guard Against Misuse of Gender Tests
Describing female foeticide as a- disgrace to society Mrs. Pratibha Patil India's first women President
has called upon the medical fraternity to ensure that diagnostic tests are
not misused for pre-natal gender determination. - We have
laws and legal provisions that specially prohibit medical
from disclosing the gender of the foetus. It is not only illegal, but it
is socially immoral and detrimental to society. It is very important that all medical facilities, doctors and radiologists adhere to this so
as to prevent female foeticide,‖ Ms. Patil
said inaugurating the 64th National Conference of Indian Radiologist and
A skewed population composition, due to a
bias against the girl child, can have many adverse social
consequences. We have a social responsibility to bring about an end to prejudices
and discrimination against the girl
child. We must encourage all such steps that will contribute to the welfare of
the girl child - proper nutrition, education, opportunity to
work and to be financially independent. A girl child is an
asset to thenation.7
Educate and empower less fortunate women
Mrs. Meira Kumari first women Lok Sabha Speaker said,
Women have great power hidden within them. Even the Mahatma
believed in this and decided to involve them in the freedom struggle…But today we live in a country
where rampant female foeticide and female
infanticide take place. The condition of women in our country needs attention,‖ Ms. Kumar
said in her address on January 5, 2011 during Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey (SNDT) Women's University annual convocation ceremony.
She appealed to a representative group of the 21,803 women
students who were awarded diplomas and degrees here, to educate and
empower less fortunate women.
Religious Leaders On Female Foeticide
On April 20, 2011 a widely respected and one of the oldest Islamic seminaries
in Lucknow has said that female foeticide was nothing less than a murder and was not permitted in Islam. In a "fatwa", the Lucknow-based
Darul Uloom Firangimahal has said
that it is "un-islamic" to abort the foetus after determining its sex.
Islam does not permit abortion, said Maulana
Khalid Rashid Firangimahali, chief of the institution and a senior member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, an
apex organization of the Muslim community in the country.
The "fatwa" was issued on Tuesday in response to a query by one Dr Huma Khwaja, who wanted to know what the
Shariat (Islamic law) stand is on termination of pregnancy
after determining the sex of the foetus. "Just as a murder
is a sin, to cut off a part
of the body (foetus) is also a sin in the eyes of Islam," Maulana Firangima
hali said in the fatwa. He said
that it was the duty of the human beings to consider the girls (female foetuses) as gifts of the god. "Society
will progress only if the girls survive," the well-known sunni cleric said in his fatwa. The
Maulana has also called for stern punishment to those indulging in
female foeticide. The fatwa assumes significance in
view of the recent census report, which pointed out that 63 districts in Uttar Pradesh had
disproportionate male-female ratio. The census
also reported that the number of girls of 0-6 age group in the state had
dropped by 10 lakh, eventhough the population of the State has went up by three
crore. In a show of unity, several religious leaders assembled at
New Delhi on June 24, 2006 and
pledged to launch a nationwide movement for the
abolition of female foeticide. Condemning the increasing inhuman and shameful
practice of female foeticide, they said: At this national convention of religious leaders, we all take
oath that we would use all resources at our command to propagate to the masses to shun the atrocious act
of female foeticide in our country. The National Convention of Religious Leaders on Abolition of Female Foeticide
and Infanticide was organized by the
Indian Medical Association, the UNICEF and the National Commission for Women
in the context of the alarming decline of female population, as indicated in the latestCensus8.
Sex Ratio And Girl Child
The Ministry of Women and Child Development is implementing the scheme of―Dhanalakshmi as
a pilot program to provide a set
of staggered financial incentives for families to encourage
them to retain the girl child. The Government has also declared 24th
of January every year as a - National Child Day to
bring forth the problems faced by the girl child and create national awareness. The
Government has also taken several measures to improve the sex ratio at birth in the country. During the1991 Census, sex ratio in the country was 927 females per one thousand males,
which increased to 933 females per
1000 males during the 2001 census. The
Government has enacted the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic
Techniques (Prohibition of
Sex Selections) Act, 1994 under which stringent
punishments have been prescribed for using pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostic techniques to illegally determine sex
of the foetus.
The National Plan of Action for the South Asian Association
for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Decade of the Girl Child (1991-2000)Seeks to ensure the equality of status for the girl child by laying down specific goals for her dignified survival and development without
discrimination. The codified
law world over considers human life as sacred and specific legal
provisions have been devised to protect the life of the born and the
indicates that the problem of female foeticide is more prevalent in orthodox families. It is, therefore,
essential that these socio-cultural factors be tackled by
changing the thought process through awareness generation, mass appeal and
social action. In addition to this all concerned i.e. the religious and
social leaders, voluntary
organizations, women‘s groups, socially responsible media,
the doctors; the Medical Council/Association (by enforcing medical ethics and penalties on deviant doctors) and.
law enforcement personnel should work in a coordinated way.
Ironically, female foeticide takes place in a country where people worship
various forms of Goddesses, and where females are considered as Maa Laxmi’s
incarnation and where young girls are worshipped and people touch their feet for
blessings. But even then, the intentional killing of the girl child continues.
Such is the double standards of our society. Right to education, health and
empowerment are the fundamental rights of every Indian woman. The horrible
illegal practice of female foeticide has to be stopped by harsh laws and change
in the mind-set of the people. Save the girl child for a better tomorrow!!!
1. Rao Mamta, Law Relating to Women and Child 88-96 (Eastern Book Co, 2ndedn,
2. Data collected from reports published by The Ministry of Health and Family
Welfare, India in 1990 Available at https://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/femalefoeticide
(last visited on 10th August, 2015)
3. Kapoor, S K, Human Rights under International Law and Indian Law 100-115
(Central Law Agency, 16th edn, 2007).
4. Courtesy: Star Plus; ‗Satyameva Jayate‘ - A show hosted by actor Amir Khan.
5. Available at https://www.gifts4u.com/women/sextests (last visited on 10th
6. Indian census reports prior 2010
7. Mishra O P, Law Relating to Women and Child 69-75 (Central Law Agency, 2nd edn,
8. The Times of India (Kolkata, June 25, 2006).
Dr. Ishita Chatterjee -
Assistant Professor of Law,
ICFAI Law School, ICFAI University, Tripura