Over the last several decades the only social indicator that is relentlessly refusing to respond positively to the concerted actions is the gender ratio. The number of girls to 1,000 boys has consistently reduced since Independence,in spite of a host of initiatives taken up by the government, both at the centre and in the states, as also by NGOs to reverse the trend. The last census saw child sex ratio dropping to a disturbing low at 914 from 976 in 1961. It is surprising to learn that of the 7 parliamentary districts of Delhi, South Delhi, has the worst gender ratio even though it is the wealthiest and the most educated. Similarly, Chandigarh, one of the cities with highest social indices, has one of the lowest child sex ratio at 818 girls to 1,000 boys. The trend cuts across communities and geographies.
To change this trend, firstly, we need to turn around the current PNDT (Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act by changing a fundamental premise of the act, which prohibits the disclosure of the sex of the unborn child whenever ultrasonography is done for whatever reason. Currently, the law invokes penal action against anyone who discloses the gender of the unborn foetus, arguing that by not disclosing the gender of the foetus, the chances of protecting the girl are greater. Whilst the intent behind the law was good, the ground reality is that through a variety of ingenious methods ultra sound clinics inform expecting parents the sex of the child. In a dramatically different approach, what is now being suggested is that since confidentiality has not worked, it is time that we changed the approach to one of complete disclosure and transparency. By disclosing the sex of the child, the family, the community and the administration would then have to accept responsibility of ensuring that the child is protected, particularly, if it happens to be a girl. Let penal provisions be activated on whosoever is responsible for eliminating the unborn or infant girl.
Secondly, the government must ensure that the laws are gender-neutral. A thought that merits consideration is to ask the Attorney Generals of every state to submit a compliance report to the Supreme Court or to the Law Ministry that such equality exists within the laws of their respective states. What, in fact must be confirmed is that there is no law that even minimally allows for any form of gender inequality.
Lastly, if we are to turn the terms of trade in favour of girls and women, it is about time that we brought work done by women at home into the economic model that measures economic activity and, in turn, GDP. As a society we have decided to put no economic worth on homemaking as an activity and thereby undervalue the enormous contribution of women in raising families.Unless economists, social planners and governments recognize the importance of this critical activity and find ways of putting an economic value to it, the contribution of women will continue to be unfairly underestimated. When a woman’s contribution is correctly recognized, the economic terms of trade will shift in her favour, and she will then be viewed as an economic asset, which will be her best protection.
— The writer is Chairman of Nanhi Chhaan Foundation and Save the Children, India.