11/26/2014, 00.00

Indian Supreme Court calls for special incentives for families who give birth to baby girls

The country's highest court calls for an end to the scourge of selective abortion and female foeticide, product of a patriarchal mind-set. Judges want stronger policies to stop the declining female birth rate. In some states, the sex ratio can be as low as 800-900 baby girls per 1,000 baby boys.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Supreme Court of India has called on state governments to provide incentives to families to help them accept and raise baby girls, thus preventing selective abortion and female foeticide.

India's highest court issued a statement to this effect after hearing a 2006 Public Interest Litigation (PIL) case filed by the Voluntary Health Association, which began following the discovery of 15 female foetuses in a well near a private clinic in the state of Punjab.

In its release, the court asserted that a "female child had as much right to live as a male child and that state governments must make all endeavour to spread awareness among the families."

Expressing "serious concern" over the country's skewed sex ratio, the judges noted that one of the reasons why "the female foeticide is still widespread" is the failure of the central and state governments to monitor hospitals and diagnostic centres.

The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act has been in place since 1994. Since then, sex determination tests have been banned. Violators can be jailed from six months to five years, plus a fine and licence suspension (or loss). However, despite the legislation, many doctors and couples who want boys disregard the law.

Selective abortions and female foeticide are the tragic result of India's patriarchal mind-set and an archaic but still dominant culture that prefers boys over girls. This, combined with the traditional dowry system, belittles the status and role of women in society, thus making girls an economic "burden" on families.

As part of its action, the Supreme Court set up a committee with officials from the Health and Family Welfare Ministry to examine the latest sex ratio data.

The first states that have to provide figures (by 10 December 2014) are Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana. The Court was not satisfied with data furnished by these states.

In its affidavit, the Uttar Pradesh government said the state's overall child sex ratio was 919. But in some districts, such as Agra, Mathura, Firozabad and Aligarh, the figure hovered around 800-850 females per 1,000 males.

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