Rich couples flying abroad for gender test & abortion, fear health officials

By Chetna Choudhry

Gurgaon: Health officials claim to have identified an emerging trend in Gurgaon and some other urban parts of Haryana that may explain why the state continues to perform badly in the much-touted ‘beti bachao’ campaign that seeks to check declining child sex ratio.

If inputs coming in from health workers deployed at different levels are any indication, many couples, especially those from affluent sections of society, are flying abroad nowadays to get gender determination tests — and if required a medical termination of pregnancy — done.

Sources said Thailand, Singapore (both sex determination and abortion allowed) and Dubai (only sex determination is done there), among a few others, seemed to be the most favoured destinations with a number of agents providing dedicated services to couples who want to avoid legal action and social stigma in India. While prenatal gender determination and foeticide are prohibited under Indian laws (Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act), these tests are allowed in these foreign countries.

What comes as more shocking is that health mandarins as well as state authorities are apparently aware of this growing challenge that may undermine all efforts to check female foeticide and boost child sex ratio in Haryana. But, they are not sure how to tackle this growing problem.

“A couple coming from rural areas or belonging to lower income groups pays anything between Rs 15,000 and Rs 30,000 to terminate pregnancy, illegally, in India. On the other hand, the same procedure can be done abroad at almost the same cost. The travelling cost is the only additional expenditure. Moreover, things are done legally abroad and in more hygienic conditions with proper medical back up. So, those who can afford go out of the country to avoid legal hassles here,” a senior health official told TOI.

According to him, though there has been no confirmed report or official complaint to suggest the exact numbers, accredited social health activists, multi-purpose health workers, auxiliary nurse midwives and NHM workers have been providing inputs, indicating a rise in the number of couples going abroad for such dubious activities. Also, touts, who have been caught in recent past during raids at PNDT centres, have also divulged names of some agents that help couples travel abroad for medical needs, including pre-natal diagnosis.
Dr Rakesh Gupta, an additional principal secretary to the chief minister and coordinator for Beti Bachao Beti Padhao in Haryana, said that there was no law that could control this exercise. “If somebody goes, let’s say, to Singapore and gets a sex determination test done and also aborts a female fetus there, there is nothing we can do about it because they are not violating any law in India. But, very few people can afford to travel abroad for this. Earlier, people were going to neighboring states, but we have already arrested that trend,” Gupta added.

Dr Manasi Mishra, the head of research and knowledge management at Centre for Social Research, it had been observed that rich couples often want only one or a maximum of two kids. “And to ensure that there is a son to carry on the family lineage, they want to be sure about the gender of the fetus. They somehow manage to evade legal action despite being involved in both pre-natal sex determination and abortions,” Mishra, who has been working in this field in Gurgaon for past two years, said.

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