In tune with the country’s attempts to battle with its dwindling girl ratio, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed Yahoo!, Google and Micrsoft’s Bing to stop displaying ads for sex determination tests on their websites.
It directed the websites to withdraw advertisements in violation of Section 22 of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act of 1994.
While a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra in an interim order said that the three internet companies shall not advertise or sponsor any advertisement on its search engines that violated the Act, it observed that “India is suffering so much because of sex ratio. Still there is a state of antipathy… Despite a ban, selective abortion is a growing problem…” The three companies have also been asked to update their ‘terms of service’ to include the top court’s order. It will give further instructions at the next hearing on February 11.
The order came on a PIL filed by Sabu Mathew George, a member of the apex court-appointed monitoring committee on the issue, that said though pre-birth sex determination tests are illegal, ads for them are displayed on major search engines. He submitted that many countries have been able to control such advertisements by way of entering into certain kind of agreements, developing technical tools and issuing appropriate directions.
Stating that they do not violate the laws of India, representatives for Google and the other search engines argued that if they block key words that allow the ads to pop up on their search engines, any content related to the topic of sex determination will not show.
“We only provide a corridor and do not have any control over the content,” they contended.
In December, the Supreme Court had made its displeasure known over the central government’s inability to restrict online content that violates the nation’s rules. It had earlier directed the Centre to take urgent steps to stop Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft from advertising kits for foetal gender determination, and displaying the addresses of foreign clinics that provide assistance in the act, which is an offence in India.
Sex determination, though illegal, is still practiced in India, which is grappling with a severe male-female ratio. India’s child sex ratio dropped from 964 in 1971 to a low of 918 in 2011, according to UN data. Between 2001 and 2011, the decline was seen in more than two-thirds of the districts in the nation. The problem is worse in urban areas, numbers show. In 2011, Delhi, the capital region, had one of the lowest child sex ratios of any state, with 871 girls born for every 1,000 boys.
The group coordinator, Cyber Laws Formulation and Enforcement Division of the Information Technology Department, had stated that it would be difficult to block these websites as they were hosted outside the country and provided good content for medical education.