A Girl Child from Gujarat
Gujarat: Alarm bells started ringing when the Census 2001 data was released. It revealed a drastic fall in the sex ratio, especially the child sex ratio. Whereas the overall sex ratio dropped from 934 to 920 per 1000 males, the child sex ratio fell shockingly from 928 to 883 in Gujarat. Mehsana, which is one of the most prosperous districts of the state, had the lowest child sex ratio of 798. This came as a rude shock for one of the most developed states of India.
It is well known that socio-cultural factors and practices, such as the status of women, patriarchal structure of the society, preference for a son, fear of dowry and the belief that it is the son who can look after the old parents and so on are the main reasons for adverse sex ratio. Therefore, the Government of Gujarat did not lose time and chalked out a two-pronged strategy to tackle the problem of female foeticide, under the personal stewardship of Chief Minister:
§ Effective enforcement of the Pre Natal Diagnostic Technique Act, popularly known as PNDT Act
§ Launch of an intensive awareness campaign called “Beti Bachao Abhiyan” (Save the Daughter Campaign) to change mindsets of community towards the girl child
Implementation of PNDT Act: The government appointed District Appropriate Authorities in all the 25 districts to oversee the strict implementation of the provisions of PNDT Act. The Act prohibits sex selection, before and after conception. It also regulates prenatal diagnostic techniques for detection of genetic abnormalities restricting their use to registered institutions and registering all clinics possessing Ultrasound machines.
To check misuse of the technology, the Government has also set up a State Inspection and Monitoring Committee to undertake field visits and monitor the implementation of PNDT Act and initiate action against unregistered institutions and those violating the law.
As many as 137 ultrasound machines have been confiscated by the Government, and legal action initiated against 89 defaulting practitioners and clinics. These actions have had a salutary effect on the effective implementation of the law.
Advocacy workshops have also been organized by professional bodies and NGOs to sensitize medical practitioners about the legal aspects of PNDT Act and the need for strictly adhering to the law. Even the High Court of Gujarat and Gujarat State Judicial Academy have contributed to this effort.
“Beti Bachao Abhiyan” (Save the Daughter) Campaign: The Chief Minister kicked off the campaign in 2005 on the occasion of the International Women’s Day. He took the initiative of establishing personal contact with people from all walks of life; particularly the ones belonging to the affluent class and motivated them to stop the abominable practice of sex selection and female foeticide.
“Declining sex ratio is a serious problem with deep social ramifications. Therefore, it has to be an ongoing process of educating people about the importance of not only saving the girl child but maintaining a healthy gender balance in society”, said Dr Yogendra Mathur, State Representative of UNICEF Gujarat.
A series of activities were organized to create awareness among different stakeholders and community at large about the declining sex ratio and its negative impact on the society as a whole:
§ A congregation of more than 5,000 Anganwadi (Child Care) Workers and women leaders from the worst affected districts was held to sensitize them about the issue. They were asked to counsel the community that female foeticide was a crime and a blot on the face of the society.
§ Community specific gatherings have been organized in different parts of the State. One million members of the Patidar Samaj (an influential section of the society, with large land holdings), took a vow at a congregation organized by them that they will not only stop the practice of sex selection and female foeticide themselves but also educate other people. Similarly, at another gathering the “Chaudhary Samaj”, community of Chaudharies pledged not to resort to sex selection and rather work for saving the girl child.
§ Spiritual leaders with mass appeal, have been involved to educate communities not to discriminate against girl children and stay away from practices like sex selection and female foeticide.
To supplement the efforts of the Government, UNICEF has also been highlighting the issue of adverse sex ratio and the urgent need to reverse the trend in all the training programmes/workshops supported by them.