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Missing: Miss Punjab

The Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994, was implemented in January 1996. It prohibits determination and disclosure of the sex of the foetus. Amended in 2003 to include sex-determination at pre-conception stage and action against advertisements promising a male child.

The Indian Express, Feb. 15, 2004

In the year of the girl child, Punjab throws up new statistics to reaffirm its preference for boys. It records nearly a lakh [100,000] female foeticides every year. Every year in Punjab about one lakh girls die before they are born. This is not a figment of an alarmist imagination but the level-headed calculation of a senior Punjab bureaucrat who has written a book on the subject. Anurag Aggarwal has got this figure from simple mathematics. 'With a gross birth rate of 3 per cent, Punjab should see 7.5 lakh births every year - 3.5 lakh females and an equal number of males. But the census shows that one-fourth of baby girls go missing. This translates into 1 lakh girls a year.'

Aggarwal is not alone in painting this dark picture. N.G.O.s are demanding a fresh census to gauge the alarming slide in the juvenile (0-6 years) sex ratio. A study sponsored by the Bill Gates Foundation shows it's down to 628 in the Khamano block of Fatehgarh Sahib. The sex ratio in Punjab is 874 females per 1,000 males as against the national average of 933. 'I can't believe mothers can do this to their children.' But the health department is blissfully unaware. 'We are taking steps under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, but it takes time . . . the cases are in court,' says Dr. B.P.S. Sandhu, director, P.N.D.T. The steps include registration of 47 cases and action against 32 in the last two years. But there's been only one conviction to date - Dr. Neelam Kohli of Ropar district was fined Rs. 1,000 by the Kharar court last July. And the only arrest has been of a health worker last November.

The trophy that the health authorities love to parade is Surinder Kaur, a resident of Kale Majra in Fatehgarh Sahib district, who was the first woman arrested for aborting her female foetus two years ago. 'The case is a blot on the department, Surinder was a victim herself,' fumes Veena Kumari, coordinator, Human Rights Law Network. A visit to Kale Majra tells you why. The corner house with the tall gate hides the tale of three brothers with nine daughters, a son, and six hectares between them. The lingering case is only intensifying their troubled existence.

Ludhiana district, the hub of sonography centres and fertility clinics has notched up only four cases to date. In Amritsar all five diagnostic centres booked by the department are back in business. The worst-hit Fatehgarh Sahib district has booked only one diagnostic centre - Ludhiana Nursing Home at Khamano. It's a no-frills place whose owner Dr. Vivek Dharni has got his sonography machine sealed. 'I wanted to get them off my back,' says the doctor who alleges the department officials were trying to milk him. Most of the cases pertain to inadequate upkeep of records or non-registration of the sonography machine. Only a handful relate to sex-determination. The rap on the knuckles is almost always gentle, ranging from sealing the ultrasound and suspending the licence to cancelling the registration. But it's only for a few months, even days.

Health Minister Ramesh Chander Dogra says more stringent steps are on the way. 'We are at fault if the sex ratio is sliding,' he says, telling you about a fantastical plan to attach every sonography machine to the C.M.O. or S.M.O.'s office.

Related Links:
Skewed Sex Ratios in Punjab: A Case Study, By MANRAJ GREWAL, The Indian Express, Feb. 15, 2004