Key Facts to Note about PCPNDT Act 2003

Ultrasound applies to all sound waves with a frequency above the audible range of normal human hearing that is around 20 kHz. The frequencies between 2 to 18 MHz are used in diagnostic ultrasound or ultrasonography for visualizing subcutaneous (below skin) body structures including tendons, muscles, joints, vessels and internal organs.

Background

The ultrasound techniques gained widespread popularity in India in 1990s. In our country, there has been a tendency to produce children until a male heir is born. The misuse of ultrasound for prenatal sex determination gave rise to a flourishing industry worth thousands of crores. The technique has also promoted the social discrimination against women. The result was a dwindling Child Sex Ratio. In 2011, India’s Child Sex Ratio was 919. It was 927 in 2001, 945 in 1991 and 962 in 1981. In the advanced societies of the world, there exists a healthy Child Sex Ratio. However, in India, it has declined rapidly and has potential to cause demographic nightmare and societal tensions.

The PNDT Act 1994

Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT) was passed in 1994 to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in the country. This act banned the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception. However, this was not followed up by effective implementation, mainly because it did not specify the techniques of sex selection and it did not bring all techniques within its ambit. Then, the need for smaller families – led to even more intensified misuse of such technologies, cutting across barriers of caste, class, religion and geography to ensure that at least one child, if not more, is a son.

With the advent of new sophisticated pre-conception sex selection technologies like sperm separation, the girl child’s elimination started becoming more subtle, refined and probably also more socially acceptable.

With these happenings, a PIL was filed in the Supreme Court and the honourable Supreme Court directed the Government to provide the act more teeth by covering new pre-conception sex selection techniques (also known as sex pre-selection techniques). Thus the PNDT act was amended and thus the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act 2003 came into existence.

With the enactment of this act, the use of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion was made an offensive crime. ”

Salient Provisions PCPNDT Act 2003

The act not only prohibits determination and disclosure of the sex of the foetus but also bans advertisements related to preconception and pre-natal determination of sex.  All the technologies of sex determination, including the new chromosome separation technique have come under the ambit of the Act.

It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques such as ultrasound and amniocentesis. They sonographers are allowed only to use ultrasound for the following diagnostics:

  • genetic abnormalities
  • metabolic disorders
  • chromosomal abnormalities
  • certain congenital malformations
  • haemoglobinopathies
  • sex linked disorders.

The Act has also made mandatory in all ultrasonography units, the prominent display of a signboard that clearly indicates that detection/revelation of the sex of the foetus is illegal.  Further, all ultrasound scanning machines have to be registered and the manufacturers are required to furnish information about the clinics and practitioners to whom the ultrasound machinery has been sold.

The act empowered the appropriate authorities with the power of civil court for search, seizure and sealing the machines and equipments of the violators. The act mentions that no person, including the one who is conducting the procedure as per the law, will communicate the sex of the foetus to the pregnant woman or her relatives by words, signs or any other method.

Any person who puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities in the form of a notice, circular, label, wrapper or any document, or advertises through interior or other media in electronic or print form or engages in any visible representation made by means of hoarding, wall painting, signal, light, sound, smoke or gas, can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined Rs. 10,000.

The PCPNDT act mandates compulsory registration of all diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics.

Critical Assessment of PCPNDT Act

The Act has the relevant provisions to end sex determination but the problem is that it is not implemented effectively. This is evident from the poor rate of conviction of the offenders. According to the written reply provided by the former Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to the Rajya Sabha in 2013, only 143 people have been punished for conducting sex determination tests and medical licenses of only 65 doctors was suspended for the whole country since the enforcement of PC&PNDT Act, in1996. Had the law been enforced effectively the child sex ratio should have improved, but on contrary it has reached its lowest level as per the census 2011 data. This clearly shows the gap in the implementation of the PC&PNDT act.

The Government was planning to amend the current act to provide it more effective implementation. For this, a bill was introduced in 2012 to establish Fast Track Courts to quickly and efficiently deliver justice and convict those who commit the horrendous crime of female foeticide.

Other Government initiatives to address declining sex ratio

To check the declining child sex ratio, the government has taken various initiatives like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana, Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, PC&PNDT Act etc. Some State government initiatives:

  • Aapki Beti, Humari beti by Haryana government.
  • Ashray scheme of Rajasthan government.
  • Sivagami Ammaiyar memorial girl child protection scheme of Tamil Nadu government.
  • Mukhya Mantri Kanya Suraksha Yojana of Bihar government.
  • The Girl Child Protection Scheme of Andhra Pradesh government.
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