NEW DELHI (TrustLaw) - Hospitals in India’s capital that conduct illegal gender tests on unborn babies could face heavy fines and tough punishment, the Times of India reported on Tuesday, adding the tests fuel the deliberate abortions of female babies and the resultant dramatic decline of New Delhi’s female population.
Sex determination tests through techniques such as ultrasonography and amniocentesis are banned in India, but female foeticide -- the deliberate abortion of unborn girls -- is still common in some regions, including New Delhi, where a preference for sons runs deep.
Recent studies by experts at Toronto-based Centre for Global Health Research suggest up to 12 million girls have been aborted over the last three decades in India, mainly by wealthy, educated families from cities like New Delhi who could afford to pay for sex tests and subsequent abortions.
"The government is mooting heavy fines and strict punishment for those involved in sex determination," Sheila Dikshit, New Delhi's chief minister, was quoted as saying by the newspaper, during a speech on World Population Day on Monday.
"We will have to intensify our efforts to save the girl child at any cost. Society will have to intensify campaigns to make the ratio of girls and boys even."
Provisional results from India's 2011 census showed fewer girls than boys have been born in India in the last decade, suggesting female foeticide has continued unabated despite legislation outlawing the practice.
The census found that while the adult female-to-male ratio has improved since the last census in 2001 – with 940 women to every 1,000 men, compared to 933 – the national child sex ratio showed there are only 914 girls under six years old compared with 927 a decade ago.
New Delhi holds the fourth lowest female-to-male sex ratio in the country with 866 women to every 1,000 men, said the newspaper, adding that authorities now want to stiffen punishments and close down clinics and hospitals offering gender tests.
In parts of India, sons are traditionally viewed as the main breadwinners who will take care of the family, continue the family name and perform the last rites of the parents – an important ritual in many faiths
But daughters are often seen as a burden in India, with families often worried about having to pay a substantial dowry to get them married, and concerned about protecting their virginity, as it can bring disrepute to the family if it is lost before marriage.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)