INTERVIEW

From sting operations to secret informers: How Haryana is clamping on sex selective abortions

Haryana's additional principal secretary talks about the state's plan to improve its sex ratio at birth to an ambitious 950 females per 1,000 male live births.

Infamous for its skewed sex ratio, Haryana made headlines in January for recording a vastly improved sex ratio at birth of 900 females births per 1,000 live male births. Prior to this, the highest sex ratio at birth recorded in the state was in 2007 when 860 females were born for every 1,000 male live births. Haryana is still some way behind other states like Arunachal Pradesh, which has the highest sex ratio at birth at 993, according to the 2014 data released by the civil registration system.

The Haryana government has credited the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign for the improved sex ratio. The nationwide campaign was launched in January 2015 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Haryana which according to the census 2011 has the worst child sex ratio, which is number of females per 1,000 males between zero to six years of age.

Scroll.in earlier reported from Jhajjar district in Haryana on why it might be too early to celebrate the state’s achievement finding both data disparities and continued discrimination against girl children in the area. However, in this interview to Scroll.in Rakesh Gupta, additional principal secretary to the Haryana chief minister, said that it is a huge achievement and has detailed the various measures that the state has taken to crack down on sex selection.

Though sex ratio at birth has crossed 900 in Haryana in 2016, do you think it might be too early to celebrate as census data which records child sex ratio is more reliable ?
Sex ratio at birth is the most appropriate indicator to monitor and check the prohibited practice of sex selective abortion, for which data every month is collected through the highly robust Civil Registration System. Chief Minister Manohar Lal responded to the call of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao made by honorable Prime Minister when this national program was launched from Panipat in Haryana in January 2015. He created a small B3P secretariat in his office to monitor the progress with all deputy commissioners and other stakeholders. Monthly sex ratio at birth touched 900 mark for the first time since January 2005 in December 2015 and yearly sex ratio at birth touched the 900 mark for the first time since year 2000 in year 2016, which is a huge achievement for the state which was earlier known for killing its daughters. I also need to add here that improved sex ratio at birth from years 2016 to 2020 will automatically result in higher child sex ratio in the census 2021.

The early gains have emboldened the political leadership and all deputy commissioners to aim for more the 950 sex ratio at birth in near future.

What is the Haryana government doing to prevent sex-selective abortions?
The state is engaged in rigorous implementation of the Pre-Conception & Pre Natal Diagnostic Technique Act 1994/2002 and the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 to ensure that sex selective abortions are not practiced in the state. As a result of effective enforcement of these statutes in the state, we registered more than 400 FIRs in the state against the offenders including doctors, quacks, paramedical staff, lab technicians found involved in this unethical and illegal crime. Deterrent effect of these interventions undertaken in the state coupled with an effective and aggressive information, education and communication campaign has helped us in creating a conducive environment for improvement of sex ratio and status of women in society.

What about the use of sex-selection drugs in Haryana and its impact on the health of mothers and children?
Haryana also faced a peculiar problem rampant misuse of sex-selection drugs, which expectant mothers consume during gestation with the hope of begetting a male child. Numerous scientific studies conducted in this context by the state government in association with the Indian Institute of Public Health New Delhi showed that consumption of such drugs lead to congenital deformity and premature birth. We also detected many cases of illegal sale and supply of sex-selection drugs and around 50 cases were registered against persons found selling or supplying such drugs. Apart from preventing pre-natal sex selection, this will also help in reducing the infant mortality rate as well and lesser incidence of congenital birth defects.

Rakesh Gupta.
Rakesh Gupta.

Haryana authorities have been conducting sting operations to nab violators. But is it not also extremely difficult to prove that a person has conducted or offered a sex-determination test to a pregnant woman and her family since both doctors and the pregnant woman’s family are in connivance?
This is absolutely true. It was not an easy task to nab the offenders engaged in sex determination crime. Since both the parties are interested which make it more challenging, as there is rarely a complainant. We, therefore, took help and support of pregnant ladies as decoy patients during these raids to nab the culprits. Lady police constables, Accredited Social Health Activists or ASHAs, auxilliary nurse midwives or ANMs and other health workers who were pregnant provided appropriate help and support to our raiding teams in public interest in this campaign against foeticide.

We could also conduct interstate, inter-district and intra-district raids with decoy patients to expose the nexus of criminals engaged in this crime. More than 75 inter-state raids in neighboring states of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, and Punjab have been conducted. Since the nature of offence is such that it does not recognize boundaries or is restricted to a particular state. Efforts were made to videograph raid proceedings in addition to collecting evidence through documentary, audio and other means. The chief minister of Haryana wrote letters to his counterparts in these states to solicit their support in our campaign against female foeticide.

Since the registration of FIR is followed by investigation to unearth the entire nexus involved in the crime, we ensure proper investigations in such cases before filing criminal prosecution complaints against the offenders in the court of law. After a raid and registration of the FIR against the accused, further investigations were undertaken to unearth nexus of criminals. Detailed standard operating procedures for investigations of such cases were also prepared and shared with the investigating officers. So far trials in only 5-6 prosecution cases have been concluded wherein 4 cases ended in conviction and appeals against the cases of acquittal have been filed in appellate court.

How do you plan to sustain the efforts? Once the crackdown stops, those offering sex selection and sex selective abortions will open shops again.
The teams implementing the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique Act in the state are now vigilant enough to take care of the menace in the state. We have the informer scheme for the information providers in our state regarding sex detection offences wherein Rs 1 lakh is given to the informer and their identity is kept secret. Apart from conducting raids, we are creating awareness against sex-selection and sex-selective abortions. We also actively advocate behavioral change, which is resulting in lesser demand for such illegal services.

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