First doctor jailed over India's aborted girls

By Justin Huggler in Delhi 
Published: 30 March 2006

A doctor in India has been jailed for revealing the
sex of a female foetus and then agreeing to abort it,
as the country moves to enforce tough laws that are
designed to curb the widespread practice stemming from
a parental preference for male children. 

Dr Anil Sabsani, a radiologist, was jailed for two
years yesterday. He was found guilty after he told an
undercover investigator she was carrying a female
baby, but that it could be "taken care of". Although
abortion is legal in India, gender testing on foetuses
is not.

Many Indian parents routinely choose to terminate
pregnancies if the child is a girl because they are
seen to be a financial burden. The result is that
there are only 927 women for every 1,000 men in India,
and the number has been steadily falling for years.

A study by Indian and Canadian researchers published
earlier this year found that selective abortion was
causing the loss of 500,000 baby girls a year.

In traditional sections of Indian society, women's
parents still have to provide them with extravagant
dowries when they marry. Boys, by contrast, bring
money into the family when they marry, and have better
employment prospects.

Before laws against pre-natal sex-determination tests
were introduced, clinics used to advertise with the
slogan: "Pay 1,000 rupees now for a test, rather than
100,000 rupees later." The practice has started to
have severe social consequences, with a shortage of
women of marrying age and an increasing number of
Indian men unable to marry.

Strict laws against sex-determination tests have been
in place for 12 years, but - until now - enforcement
has been poor.

More than 4,000 cases have been brought before the
courts but the conviction rate has been very low. Even
in rare cases where doctors have been found guilty,
sentences have been as low as a 12 fine.

In several cases, witnesses have regularly turned
hostile when the cases came to court, refusing to
testify against doctors amid widespread suspicions
that they have been bribed or intimidated.

Witnesses in Sabsani's case also failed to testify,
but the prosecution succeeded because undercover
investigators had secretly videotaped a consultation
in which he told a pregnant woman the sex of her baby
for an extra 20. He told her it was a girl, and
insinuated that the pregnancy could be terminated.

The authorities in Haryana state said they had sent in
an undercover team after receiving complaints about
Sabsani. Haryana has one of the worst female foeticide
rates in the country and has 861 women for every 1,000
men in the state.

"In 12 years of the law being in force, this is the
first time that the government has taken action," said
Ranjana Kumari, an Indian activist from the Centre for
Social Research.

"Revealing that the foetus is female results in it
being aborted. That is akin to murder and the
punishment should have been more severe. We hope that
Tuesday's judgment will act as a deterrent for other
doctors who would consider doing something like this."

The money to be made from providing sex-determination
tests has led many to flout the law. Doctors can tell
the sex of the foetus in the course of a routine
ultrasound check-up, without conducting extra tests.
Some clinics have even resorted to underhand methods
to get around the law, with doctors signing the report
in red ink for a girl and blue for a boy, or handing
over the report on Monday if the foetus is a boy and
Friday for a girl.

Sabsani's assistant was also sentenced to two years in
jail, and both were fined 5,000 rupees (65).


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