It is a well-established fact that many doctors across the country have been caught promoting and pushing for gender-selection in favour of the male child. A lucrative, illegal and unethical business. But are they also practising this in their personal lives?
A new study published in the American Journal "Demography" and titled "Skewed Sex Ratios in India: Physician Heal Thyself" seems to suggest so. The survey was conducted by collecting data from 946 nuclear families with 1,624 children. Either one or both parents were doctors and students at the Government Medical College and Hospital in Nagpur between 1980 and 1985.
The survey revealed the following:
- Child sex ratio amongst these families was 907 girls per 1,000 boys
- This is below the national average of 914
- Much lower than the regional (Vidarbha) average of 954
- If the family had only one child, this figure dropped even further to 900
- If the family had two children and the first one was girl, the ratio dropped to a shameful 519 - chances of the second child being female dropped by 38%
The analysis - done by a team of four doctors in Nagpur - clearly points out that "the heavily skewed ratios in the families of physicians are indicative of a deeply rooted social malady that could pose a critical challenge in correcting sex ratios in India."
One of the study's authors, Dr Archana Patel, says that the idea was to go beyond earlier findings which have shown that though gender selection takes place across most socio-economic groups, the sex ratio is more skewed amongst the rich than the poor. "I don't think such disproportionate figures can be achieved without any human interference. The numbers do suggest that doctors too are reflecting the mindset of the society at large," she told NDTV.
The report also cautions that the study has its limitations given the small sample size taken into consideration and it also does not account for childhood mortality rates. However, it mentions that the figures are "distressing" and "warrants a closer look at the psyche behind sex-selection practices" and if they pervade across the medical fraternity.
When informed about these startling figures, Maharashtra's Health Minister Suresh Shetty agreed the data was indicative of the rot having gone much too far. "We will have to examine this report as this is quite serious. However, when we started taking this issue very seriously two years ago, we faced stiff resistance from doctors and all those who were running sonography centres as they opposed the implementation of the law," he claimed.
Maharashtra has been grappling with the scourge of sex-determination and female foeticide for years. The epicenter of the malpractice is at Beed, a 7 hour drive from Mumbai, where Dr Sudam Munde and his wife Dr Saraswati allegedly ran a sophisticated abortion racket for several years. In May 2012, the death of a woman who came to the couple for an abortion spot-lit the magnitude of their activities and led to their arrest.
Both are now facing charges under the Pre-Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act. If convicted they could face a maximum of three years in jail. Mrs Munde is out on bail but Mr Munde's plea was rejected by the Supreme Court last November. The court directed him to apply for bail after six months.