As you may or may not be knowing, we're expecting our second child. Come September, there's going to be another wailing voice providing backup vocals to the wailing 3-year old. Whether this voice would be male or female, we don't know yet, because the law prevents disclosure of the gender of the foetus. Female infanticide is a terrible problem in India. With modern technology, it is possible to know the gender of the foetus within 11 – 12 weeks of the pregnancy, at which point it is still medically safe to abort the foetus (I guess, but am not the expert). Thus, the Government of India passed a law in 1994, which stated that the determination of the gender of the baby, is a crime punishable by a fine and imprisonment of up to 10 years. The law was hailed by one and all as something which was a mighty fine thing to do. Most everyone I know supports the law, as do I.
Or I think I do.
The reason that I am not quite sure, is that in spite of the strict law, and the strong deterrent, the girls to boys ratio in India has gone from 906 per 1000 (bad enough) in 1996 to 835 per 1000 in 2005. This trend has been seen in almost every state in India, such that some experts suggest that over this 10 year period, somewhere between 4.2 million – 12.1 million unborn female fetuses were aborted through selective selection abortions. Given the range of the data, it is estimated that even rich, educated, well-to-do families indulge in this truly gruesome crime. The government believes that a large portion of this, has come through proliferation of illegal ultrasound centers who disclose the gender for a fee. The government is cracking on stricter implementation of the law and the illegal ultrasound centers are being sealed and closed. So the question to be looked at is:
Has the law helped in any way? How much have illegal USG centers contributed to the drop in the girl-boy ratio? I don't have the data to prove either way, but I do have a theory.
I believe the current approach is akin to shooting the messenger. We're going after these centers because they're illegal, which is ok, but we really won't solve the problem at hand, because it's not the machines that kill the babies, but the people who go to these centers that do. If we don't go after these cruel excuses for humans, we'll never solve the problem. We'll only get some other way by which people figure out how to get to their ultimate objective of this exercise.
Let's approach this through the counter theory, that let's say we were to (magically) eliminate all the illegal USG centers in India, would female infanticide (equally magically) go away? If your answer is yes, my follow up question would be to ask you, how confident you are in saying this. I'd say that you probably have some doubt on this happening. Primarily because no one has the data which says that how many of the 4.2 million mothers went to these illegal centers. Again, I don't have the data, but we've heard cases as to how the doctor signs the report in red ink if it's a girl and blue ink if it's a boy, or some version thereof, which is something you could do in a perfectly legal set up, with no evidence whatsoever. So I'd say there is some doubt in saying that getting rid of the illegal USG centers will kill the menace.
Another problem with the lack of data, is that it is tough to say how many of the total people who went to these illegal centers actually aborted the foetus. The reason I say that, is because I can confidently say that not everyone does that. A USG can cost up to 1200 rupees in a private hospital, and about 600 in a government hospital, both of which are somewhat expensive for a large portion of expectant families. Plus, if you've ever been to Sassoon, you're probably not going there again ever. In short, if the illegal center does it for 250, someone who actually cannot tell the difference between legal and illegal centers and cannot afford 600 might go there, and have a lifelong fulfilling experience as a caring parent.
A third issue with the lack of data is a bit more psychological. I think based on the data it is fair to say that there are some people in this country who are so against having a girl child that they'd be willing to kill. For a country with a relatively low homicide rate, I think that's a pretty chilling assessment. But without digressing, if there is some way by which I can be absolutely certain of not having this problem, with a small risk of being caught, many of these evil bastards will take it. Again, the risk is small simply because there is no data to prove that you're having a girl child.
The point is not that the law is an ass, but rather that there is no data on the basis of which we can devise solutions. We're working on solutions based on data which tells us there is a problem, but you don't need data to tell you the problem. The problem will exist regardless of the data. We need data to guide us to the solutions.
So I suggest why not flip the law?
Why not we make it mandatory to reveal the gender of the foetus to the parents? Those with no malicious intent will definitely prefer this, anyway. It also helps us to attack the core of the issue, which is that it prevents the very business model of the illegal USG centers. I don't see any incentive to set up an illegal center, if people can get the same thing at a legal center.
But most importantly, flipping the law gives us data. Data that can show us who does this, and some evidence that can be used to hang these people.
While we see posts of "post this to your FB status, or you're not a patriot, and while you're debating about posting you just killed 15 unborn girls" on various social media will anyone start a FB page for changing the law?
I don't have the guts.