-( Anti-foeticide activists launch stealth operation on clinics)
New Delhi, Jan. 24: With a concealed camera and a miniature microphone, a pregnant woman captures the words and gestures of a doctor in a town in western India as he reveals the sex of her foetus after a brief ultrasound scan.
Within minutes, district officials knock on his doors and confront him with the digital evidence and charge him with violating the decade-old law that prohibits doctors in India from revealing the sex of foetuses to parents.
It’s a typical culmination of a series of sting operations planned and executed by health activists as well as government officials in recent months in an attempt to trap doctors who breach the law.
“It’s time to make the law work,” said Varsha Deshpande, a health activist with the Kranti Yuvak Dal in Maharashtra’s Satara district, who has helped trap eight doctors in the state.
“We’re fighting organised crime and murder,” she said.
District collector Arvind Kumar in Hyderabad has also used decoys and hidden audio-visual equipment to record eight doctors revealing foetal gender — either through words or coded gestures. He has also prosecuted 18 ultrasound clinics in the city that had not maintained detailed records of their patients as required under the law.
“We need to jolt them by putting some of them in jail,” Kumar said.
Health activists have used the steady decline in sex ratio to estimate that hundreds of ultrasound clinics are engaged in sex determination.
The national sex ratio dropped from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001. Since then, it has dropped to below 850 in several districts across the country. In Delhi, it is now 812. Birth registration data suggest that 25,000 female foetuses were aborted in Delhi alone in 2004.
Health activist Sabu George estimates that several million female foetuses have been aborted in India. “It’s genocide,” he said.
“The awareness campaigns are pointless. Female foeticide occurs among the educated,” said Puneet Bedi, a consultant in foetal medicine in New Delhi.
“Those engaged in female foeticide have Jai Mata Di stickers on their cars.”
The operations against sex determination have led to 357 cases against ultrasound clinics, said Ratan Chand, the director of a body that monitors the implementation of the prenatal sex determination law. But action has been taken against only four doctors in Punjab.“The mechanisms for action are in place. We just need committed individuals who’re willing to take up the challenge,” Chand said.
But government officials say that convicting doctors is proving to be an uphill task. “There is tremendous pressure from the medical fraternity not to touch them,” said Kumar who has got permission from the government to appoint a special counsel for prosecution of the doctors.
“I need someone whom I can trust. If we’re not careful, they could use influence to weaken our case,” he said.
Dr M. Geetha, the former district magistrate in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh, said she had a hard time in investigating and closing down three ultrasound clinics in her district that had breached provisions of the law.
After simultaneous raids on the three ultrasound clinics in October 2005, a seven-member committee of doctors and experts met to vote on the fate of the clinics. “Although the committee voted to close down the clinics and charge the doctors with violating the law, even government doctors on the committee voted against taking action,” Geetha said.
But Deshpande believes that a few convictions would be enough to send a message among the medical community. “They’re basically timid. When trapped, they begin squealing against their own colleagues who’re also in this business,” she said.