Thursday, August 25, 2011

The 'unwanted'

The discrimination against the girl child knows no bounds. The Times of India reports that in a shocking incident, the District Health Administration in Satara District of Maharashtra has identified 222 girls in the age group of 0 – 16 with names “Nakoshi” (meaning ‘Unwanted”, in Marathi) who will be rechristened and given ‘regular’ names so that they are able to carry out their lives normally.

Many of the developed countries have laws which permit or prohibit what name a child can be given. For example, New Zealand has a list of 102 names, which include “Adolf Hitler” which are banned. Portugal bans ‘Mona Lisa’, while in Norway, there is a ban on ‘swear and sex words, illnesses and negative names’. In Australia, Registrars can refuse to register a name which is considered ‘obscene, offensive, too long, consists of symbols without phonetic significance or is contrary to public interest’. In the USA, ‘numbers are not allowed’, while in Denmark, prohibited names include ‘monkey’ and Japan bans ‘Akuma’ (which means Devil).

India’s problem is however, different and no such law is likely to solve it. As parents of these 222 children would vouch, a girl child simply is ‘nakoshi’, whatever name she may be called with. The latest census data shows that the child sex ratio in India has deteriorated over the last 10 years. ‘Progressive’ and prosperous states like Maharashtra fare significantly worse than the National average and sit at the bottom of the National rankings.

Child population in the age group of 0 – 6 years:
Females per 1000 males
All India
1.4 %
3.3 %
(Source: Census of India, 2011)

A recent paper predicted that India would have 20% more men than women in the next two decades due to sex-selective abortion and craze for male child. Clearly, hundreds of girls are being in killed our country even before, or soon after they are born. This is mass murder at the highest scale. It is estimated 8 million female fetuses may have been aborted in India in the past one decade alone.

Little is being done to arrest this trend. The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC & PNDT) Act was passed in 1994, which makes sex determination of the child before birth illegal. But there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that abortion of the female fetus continues with impunity. The number of convictions under the PC & PNDT Act are minimal, with only 13 convictions across the entire country in 2010 and only 2 in Maharashtra.

Ironically, the rapid rise in the number of Sonography Centres in recent years might have contributed to this disturbing trend. For example, in 2004, there were 4,345 such centres in Maharashtra, a number that has swelled to 7,939 by 2010-11. A study conducted in 2004 observes that higher the number of Sonography centres in a region; poorer is the sex ratio. Selective sex abortion is now a Rs.1000 crore industry. The Maharashtra Government is now working on a system of compulsory online registration of every sonography conducted by a Sonography centre in the state. But it is doubtful how successful the experiment will be.

Policing can only do this much. What is needed is for attitudes to change. And until that happens, hundreds of Nakoshis will continue to be killed even before they are born. And many of those who are lucky enough to be born will be left to suffer a lifetime of discrimination and injustice. 

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