Difficult to summarily dismiss the idea of legalising sex determination. But, there are many concerns, too.
Now that Union women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi has proposed and then gone back on making sex determination tests compulsory and tracking mothers to check for female foeticide, it is time to check the merit of the premise. If implemented, it would have surely overturned the provisions of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, that makes sex determination tests illegal, unless medically determined to be necessary. Even if it wasn’t summarily a bad proposition, it would certainly have meant that the government would have had to walk a tightrope.
The PCPNDT Act contained penalty provisions for medical professionals for carrying out illegal sex determination tests, placing a burden on them for choices that parents make. Legal and compulsory testing remedies this while placing on parents the burden of having to explain any termination of pregnancy. At the same time, with tracking, the government is likely to be better aware of expected live female births. Any marked deviation can be easily flagged and the government can intervene. With ante-natal monitoring of pregnant women—already done digitally in some states—this may not prove too difficult. Fitting tracking devices in sonography machines has had remarkable success—for example, in Haryana’s Jhajjar district, with one of India’s worst sex ratio—in curbing illegal sex testing. It will be hard to conduct “off-network” testing if the thrust is on getting full coverage for such tracking. However, could such a move prompt greater neo-natal death among female infants? That is a concern any rationale forwarded to legalise sex determination must address. At the same time, with sex determination being a costly affair, compulsory testing will require the government to perhaps subsidise it for a section of the population, adding to the public spending burden.