Terming the decline in child sex ratio (0-6 years) as an 'emergency', civil rights workers say there is lack of political will to address the issue which requires a national policy from the government before the situation goes out of hand.
Census 2011 results show that among children up to the age of six, the number of girls per 1,000 boys has reduced to 914, a drop from 927 in 2001. As per the figures, this is lowest since the country's independence in 1947. "The government should take it as an emergency call. The solution is nothing but strict implementation of the PNDT Act.
Ultrasound machines are so faulty that even quacks have access to them. Unless we strengthen and effectively implement this law, sex ratio would not improve," says Ranjana Kumari, chairperson of Centre for Social Research. "There is lack of political will to take the issue forward effectively. The Central Supervisory Board, which must meet every six months, has been non-existent for three years. The health minister should be held accountable for it," she adds.
The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act has been in force since 1996, but it has not proved handy in checking the declining sex-ratio, mainly due to poor implementation and low convictions of medical professionals found guilty. According to women rights activist Madhu Kishwar, the single most important reason for this decline in sex ratio is the growing spread of foeticide followed by sex determination tests.
"This serious decline is a testimony to the failure of the fairly stringent laws against sex determination tests. The lowest sex ratio figures for the two relatively prosperous states close to the national capital, Haryana and Punjab, show that the laws are not effective in Delhi's immediate vicinity," says Kishwar.
Though the overall sex ratio at the national level has increased by 7 points since the 2001 to reach 940 females per 1000 males, this is lower than 1961, when the figure stood at 941 females per 1000 males. A study conducted by ActionAid, an NGO that works for women welfare, reveals poverty is not the only reason for sex selective abortion and it is the upper caste families and prosperous areas of the country that have most missing girls and the sex ratio gap.
"The urban areas are worst offenders and the gender ratio has been better among Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Communities. It is a national shame and now is the time to move away from patchy responses and look at the larger picture to evolve a stronger strategy to change the status quo," says Sandeep Chachra, executive director, ActionAid India.
Kishwar feels it is very important for the government to target the elite families practicing this heinous crime in order to send a message to other groups in the society. "If the government can find a way of enforcing its law against sex determination tests and foeticide among this elite group, it would earn both the moral right as well as the know how to motivate the rest of the population to overcome the sickly culture of son preference," she says.
Activists say that policies for the girl child have not done much to improve the situation and Centre needs to engage state governments in the response to this situation. Government should focus on improving services in Anganwadi centres, besides monitoring the births from the pregnant stage. "The behavioral change communication to change attitudes of people on girl child has been patchy and does not treat the issue in its totality, the campaigns have been weak in outreach. These need to be backed by a strong national policy that fixes targets on stopping this practice," says Chachra. State officials, particularly doctors and health care staff should be engaged and the local mass media should be used to spread awareness and change patriarchal mindset in the society, he adds.