Indian doctor jailed over sex tests on foetuses

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The Independent Online

An Indian court sentenced a doctor to two years in prison for using ultrasound tests to determine the sex of foetuses - information the mothers could use to abort baby girls.

Anil Sabsani, a radiologist who officials say told an undercover investigator she was carrying a female fetus but that her pregnancy could be "taken care of," is reportedly the first doctor convicted under a law designed to prevent gender-selective abortions — a widespread problem in India, where many regard daughters as a liability.

Sabsani and his assistant were sentenced to two years in prison and fined 5,000 rupees (US$125) each, said Sushma Saini, an information officer for the Haryana state government.

They were tried in Palwal, a Haryana city about 95 miles south of New Delhi where Sabsani had his practice.

Hundreds of thousands of female foetuses are believed aborted every year in India in sex-selective procedures.

In 2001, authorities responsible for monitoring physicians sent an undercover team to Sabsani's office to see if he would reveal the gender of a fetus, said R.C. Aggarwal, Haryana's chief medical officer.

Sabsani told the undercover team he would reveal the sex if he was paid an additional 1,500 rupees (US$35). After being paid, he told the woman the fetus was female, adding: "But that can be taken care of," Aggarwal said.

It was not clear how many sex-determination tests Sabsani had conducted, Aggarwal said.

"However, we had received complaints about him, which is why we set up the appointment," he said.

Aggarwal, who was part of the team monitoring the state's doctors, said there were cases pending against three other doctors on similar charges in Haryana courts. He was not certain when those cases would go to trial.

Cases can take years to make it through India's severely overburdened judicial system.

While abortions are legal in India, revealing the sex of the baby and aborting on grounds of gender are not. In 1994, the government outlawed prenatal sex-determination tests, but the law is widely flouted — especially among better-off Indians — despite pledges by officials of a crackdown.

There has long been a preference for boys among parents in India, where a bride's family traditionally gives cash and gifts to the groom's relatives.

A study published January in the Lancet, a leading British medical journal, reported that up to 10 million female foetuses may have been aborted in India over the past two decades following prenatal gender checks.

The researchers studied data on female fertility from a continuing Indian national survey, analyzing information on 133,738 births.

Based on the natural gender ratio from other countries, they estimated that 13.6 million to 13.8 million girls should have been born in 1997 in India. However, only 13.1 million were reported, the study said.

Thus, they concluded that 500,000 girls were "missing" annually — most likely the result of abortions — giving them the figure of 10 million over 20 years. The researchers called the estimate conservative.

India's census in part backs up the finding. The number of girls per 1,000 boys declined in the country from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001, according to census figures.