Saturday, September 02, 2006

New technology available to fan female foeticide

New technology available to fan female foeticide

Published: Saturday, 2 September, 2006, 10:14 AM Doha Time
By Maxwell Pereira

The unholy spectre of illegal sex selection to prevent or destroy female offspring - at the pre-conception stage or the pre-natal - just doesn't seem to stop. Even as the country is battling to remedy its skewed sex ratio, newer onslaughts are afoot through technology driven procedures available in cyberspace; the warped Indian brain is quick to learn and adapt with ulterior aims.
All in an effort to circumvent existing laws prohibiting sex selection for purpose of eliminating the very possibility of a girl child being born.
In early July, the media stumbled on to the increasing practice among Indian parents of accessing through the Internet facilities available in the US guaranteeing a male issue even at the pre-conception stage.
A process based on PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) or ICSI (Intra Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection) technique that could make sex determination of the child possible at the conception level by taking one healthy sperm for fertilisation of the egg with freedom to chose Y over X chromosome.
New techniques have been developed in America, which combine the spectacular advances in molecular genetics and assisted reproductive technology (ART), to enable physicians to identify genetic diseases in the embryo, prior to implantation, before the pregnancy is established.
But PGD was developed for patients - especially those resorting to intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization - who were at risk of having children with serious genetic disorders, such as haemophilia, which often discouraged them having their own biological children. In genuine cases, PGD also offered parents to balance their family with equal number of girl and boy children.
Quick on the uptake to realise its commercial potential, websites of fly-by-night operators sprung up in the US offering the facility to Indian couples across the globe - and true to form with enough gullible or eager Indians to bite the bait for dubious use at the Indian end. Websites like, Tell Me Pink or Blue, GenSelect and which rural Punjabis quickly transformed to 'jantarmantar', and so on - offering home pregnancy kits for a dollar price translating to around Rs15,000 or less. Facilities to pack a blood sample to a lab in the US to know the baby's gender in a few days.
The increasing deficit of girls is also creating a social imbalance within society, with pockets in India where very few girls are born. Resulting in no brides for the burgeoning son population, with the prospect of having to import girls from other regions. Resulting in social problems of purchasing young girls from poor regions, women treated as commodities, contributing to further fall in their status in society.
This can only lead to further exploitation and abuse of women, violence against them, increased trafficking and sex trade, and re-emergence of practices like polyandry. Letting the cycle of discrimination and gender inequities to continue, fuelled now by newer and more accurate technologies for sex selection.
Alarmed over this latest threat, the union health ministry has addressed the ministry of information technology through the home ministry to initiate measures to ban or block these websites. The exact implications and the dimensions of the impact on Indian society of this new menace need study.
Especially when the battle is on against the nationwide plague of illegal sex selection through the ultrasound facility - that throws up gory cases of the Patran type with scores of aborted foetuses in doctors' backyard wells!
While the new threats would need the attention of the expert medical fraternity to suggest an appropriate course of action, the aspect of effecting dollar payment over internet, or through relatives abroad, would also need examination.
There is need for the ministries of science and technology, of communications and information technology, of finance and revenue (income tax) to be sensitive to the issue and be involved. - IANS


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