Indian tragedy: doc’s suicide illustrates sex-selection pressure

04 Jun 2009

By The Record

INDIA (CWN) – An Indian doctor has committed suicide after a court in the Punjab state upheld her conviction for violating a law that bars sex-determination tests during pregnancy.
The death of Dr Lakshmi Garg dramatically illustrates India’s continuing struggle with the common practice of sex-selection abortion.
Although abortion is legal in the country, the government has taken aggressive steps to curb sex-selection abortions, in order to remedy a growing disparity in the number of births of male and female children.
Due to deeply ingrained pattern in Indian culture that favours male children, more than 10 million girls have been found “missing” in the country over the past two decades, because women choose to abort after determining that they are carrying a female baby. In one of several efforts to stop the trend, the government has banned sex-determination tests.  But many doctors quietly skirt that law, making a point of telling prospective parents the gender of the baby after a “routine” prenatal examination.
After Dr Garg was convicted of violating the law and performing sex-selection abortions – a rare successful prosecution – she filed an appeal. When the appeals court refused to lift her 30-month prison sentence, she consumed poison in the courtroom. She was rushed to a nearby hospital, but was soon pronounced dead. The strong preference for male babies is rooted in Hindu tradition, which teaches that a father cannot attain moksha, or salvation, unless a son performs his funeral rites.
This religious practice gave rise to a system of heavy dowries, in which families paid a large price for the marriage of their daughters – thus making girl children become economic liabilities as well.
The subsequent pressure for male children, combined with a strong emphasis on family planning and the ready availability of legal abortion, has given India an extremely skewed ratio of boys to girls. In the nation as a whole there are only about 925 girls for every 1000 boys.