First doctor jailed over India's aborted girls

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The Independent Online

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).