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Checking Female Foeticide in the Information Age

Checking Female Foeticide in the Information Age
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Author(s): Chetan Sharma (Datamation Foundation Charitable Trust, India) and Divya Jain (Datamation Foundation Charitable Trust, India)
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 6
Source title: Encyclopedia of Gender and Information Technology
Source Author(s)/Editor(s): Eileen M. Trauth (Pennsylvania State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-815-4.ch015


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In India, the practice of sex-selective abortion or female foeticide (in which an unborn baby is aborted or killed before birth simply because it is not a boy) is only the latest manifestation of a long history of gender bias, evident in the historically low and declining population ratio of women to men. Moreover, the medical fraternity in India has been quick to see entrepreneurial opportunities in catering to insatiable demands for a male child. Until recently, the technology was prohibitively expensive. The three chief pre-natal diagnostic tests being used to determine the sex of a foetus (sexing) are amniocentesis, chronic villi biopsy (CVB) and ultrasonography. Amniocentesis is meant to be used in high-risk pregnancies, in women older than 35 years. CVB is meant to diagnose inherited diseases like thalassaemia, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. Ultrasonography is the most commonly used technique. It is non-invasive and can identify up to 50% of abnormalities related to the central nervous system of the foetus. But sexing has become its preferred application. A ban on the government departments at the center and in the states, making use of pre-natal sex determination for the purpose of abortion a penal offence, led to the commercialization of the technology; private clinics providing sex determination tests through amniocentesis multiplied rapidly and widely. These tests are made available in areas that do not even have potable water, with marginal farmers willing to take loans at 25% interest to have the test. Advertisements appear blatantly encouraging people to abort their female foetuses to save the future cost of dowry. The portable ultrasound machine has allowed doctors to go from house to house in towns and villages. In a democracy, it is difficult to restrict rights to business and livelihood if the usual parameters are fulfilled. An argument by Rathee (2001) brings to light the fact that the recent technological developments in medical practice combined with a vigorous pursuit of growth of the private health sector have led to the mushrooming of a variety of sex-selective services. This has happened not only in urban areas, but deep within rural countryside, also—areas where the other dimensions of healthcare and development are yet to penetrate. Indeed, the indications are that given these lethal combinations, the phenomenon of sex-selective abortions is growing nationwide. Furthermore, these discriminatory services are being provided and projected in the name of “democratic choice” as a measure of “upliftment” of women, since they are being saved from dowry deaths, burning and other forms of torture and violence they would have undergone once they were born. This pure greed for money is also equated by a large section of doctors to “people’s demand.”

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