Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Missing at birth: Sex selective abortion and infanticide

The recent Statistics on Sex selective abortion and infanticide show a serious pitfall in preventing the malpractices. Serious efforts are needed to deter sex selective abortion and infanticide.
By IASToppers
March 16, 2020


  • Introduction
  • A chilling example
  • Sex selective abortion
  • Sex ratio at birth
  • Falling SRB
  • Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act
  • Main provisions
  • Way forward
  • Conclusion

Missing at birth: Sex selective abortion and infanticide

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As Amartya Sen argued: While at birth boys outnumber girls, ‘after conception, biology seems on the whole to favor women’. This statement is enough to understand the plight of Sex selective abortion and infanticide cases in India.  Few things cast a long shadow on human failing as much as sex selection does. To choose on the basis of gender and eliminate new life if the gender is not ‘favourable’ can easily be among humanity’s worst moments.

A chilling example:

  • Last week’s case of infanticide in Tamil Nadu, historically notorious for its crude methods of killing female babies, sent a chill down the spine of the country.
  • Years after it was believed that awareness generation and targeted behaviour change communication had led to people giving up the inhuman practice of feeding female infants with the toxic milk of a local herb, the news that a couple had reportedly used the same method to kill their second girl child, just a month old.

Sex selective abortion:

  • Sex-selective abortion is the practice of terminating a pregnancy based upon the predicted sex of the infant.
  • The selective abortion of female fetuses is most common where male children are valued over female children, especially in parts of East Asia and South Asia.
  • Sex-selective abortion affects the human sex ratio—the relative number of males to females in a given age group, China and India, the two most populous countries of the world, are having unbalanced gender ratios.

Sex ratio at birth:

  • The ‘sex ratio at birth’, defined as the number of girls born for every 1,000 boys born, is a refined indicator of the extent of prenatal sex selection.
  • Data on sex ratio at birth (SRB) culled from the Civil Registration System, show an alarming fall over the years.
  • From 903 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2007, it dropped to 877 in 2016.
  • Sample Registration Survey-2017 that was released in 2019, by the Central government shows that SRB in rural India was 898 in 2015-17 while the figure for urban India was 890.

Falling SRB:

  • Four States have an SRB equal to or below 840: Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan (806), Bihar (837), Uttarakhand (825) and Tamil Nadu (840).
  • Activists point out that while infanticide may have come down, sex selective abortion at scan centres continues as the preferred vehicle for parents (and grandparents) obsessed with son preference.
  • This despite the fact that the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act was enacted and amended to arm the state to wage a war against this pernicious practice.
  • The Centre’s ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign aimed at saving girl children has a huge unfinished task in front of it.
  • Tamil Nadu, at one stage under the leadership of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, effectively employed the Cradle Baby Scheme to counter infanticide, along with effective awareness campaigns.
  • The cradles are still there, and the babies are coming too, but the SRB has been steadily dropping since 2011.

Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act:

  • Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India.
  • The act banned prenatal sex determination.
  • The main purpose of enacting the act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion.
  • Offences under this act include conducting or helping in the conduct of prenatal diagnostic technique in the unregistered units, sex selection on a man or woman, conducting PND test for any purpose other than the one mentioned in the act, sale, distribution, supply, renting etc. of any ultra sound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of the foetus.

Main provisions:

  • The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception.
  • It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques, like ultrasound and amniocentesis by allowing them their use only to detect:
    • Genetic abnormalities
    • Metabolic disorders
    • Chromosomal abnormalities
    • Certain congenital malformations
    • Haemoglobinopathies
    • Sex linked disorders.
  • No laboratory or centre or clinic will conduct any test including ultrasonography for the purpose of determining the sex of the foetus.
  • No person, including the one who is conducting the procedure as per the law, will communicate the sex of the foetus to the pregnant woman or her relatives by words, signs or any other method.
  • Any person who puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities in the form of a notice, circular, label, wrapper or any document, or advertises through interior or other media in electronic or print form or engages in any visible representation made by means of hoarding, wall painting, signal, light, sound, smoke or gas, can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined Rs. 10,000.
  • The Act mandates compulsory registration of all diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics.

Way forward:

  • It is time again for the government to ramp up awareness building exercises, and this time use technology to monitor every single pregnant woman right down to taluk levels until at least one year after birth.
  • Need for counselling and attitude change to eliminate the perversion of son preference from people’s minds.
  • Close coordination is needed at the central, state and local level.
  • Stringent punishment for offenders whether practicing doctors or parents, etc.


  • While punitive aspects might offer a measure of deterrence, true change can only be brought about by a change in attitude. Thus it becomes necessary to be more coercive and more incentive, towards the families concerned, with regard to the public policy intended to eradicate these malpractices.
Mains 2020 Editorial Notes

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