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female foeticide in Maharashtra

One More Lady-Aimed Government Idea that Won’t Work

Maharashtra’s Public Accounts Committee on Saturday recommended making a sex determination test during pregnancy mandatory, signalling a possible about-face in approach to solving the problem of female foeticide in Maharashtra.

It’s an interesting idea, and it’s heartening to hear a new one, after years of the same, stagnant response to the state’s (and country’s) continuing sex ratio disparity. It’s interesting because a chief criticism of the sex-testing ban has been its inherent lack of data – how can you tell if a statistically significant amount of female foetuses have been terminated, when you don’t know how many there were in the first place? A mandatory sex test during pregnancy could solve this problem – but not without creating others.

The main problem is that it simply won’t work. “Fear of law among parents is necessary to increase the sex ratio,” the committee’s report reads. But fear of punishment does little to establish a more desirable behaviour; the less desirable behaviour simply goes more underground, making it more difficult to track and combat. (See: Laws that restrict abortion everywhere at any point in history.)

Then there’s the issue of monitoring, which the committee is also calling for. Any woman carrying a female foetus and desiring an abortion will automatically be questioned if this recommendation is followed. India’s current abortion laws are quite liberal and rightly favour a woman’s ability to make the decision for herself; let’s not compromise women’s rights by casting a cloud of suspicion over half of all abortions. Reasons for keeping or aborting a pregnancy are impossible to prove — which means the next logical step, if these recommendations are implemented, is to ignore them altogether and curtail abortion rights broadly.

Requiring a sex determination test during pregnancy does little beyond give us numbers and put a target on the backs of women carrying female foetuses. It doesn’t change hearts and minds – which are the driving forces behind female foeticide in Maharashtra and other parts of the country. Let’s put more effort into laws and social programs that promote gender equality and girls’ education, so girls can reach their full potential alongside boys as economic supporters of their families and the economy. It’s only when we prove girls are valuable that parents-to-be will see them as such. No amount of law-fearing can accomplish that.

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