India to register pregnancies to curb female foeticide and infanticide

15 July, 2007:

The Government of India plans to create a registry of all pregnancies in an effort to check widespread female foeticide and female infanticide and to reduce infant mortality rate.

Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said the government also aims to promote safe deliveries at health centres and hospitals with the help of thousands of state-funded Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) in rural areas.

ASHAs will be entrusted with the task of registering pregnancies and identifying a pregnant woman and taking her for two to three antenatal checkups and for delivery.

The government also wants all rural health centres, hospitals, and maternity homes to register pregnancies.

Despite the country’s good economic growth over the past few years, over half of India’s women give birth to babies at home.

With many people strongly preferring boys to girls, around 10 million female infants have been killed by their parents in the past 20 years, according to government estimates. Officials believe that the plan to record the number of pregnant women would help in saving thousands of unborn and newborn girls. “With this, mysterious abortions will become difficult,” Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury told reporters.

Despite a law banning sex-determination tests, many parents get female foetuses aborted, taking advantage of the widespread availability of ultrasound scanning technology and the willingness of some doctors to conduct illegal abortions for money.

Some kill newborn girls by breaking their necks or, in some rural areas, by stuffing hay down their throats.

However, women’s groups and some activist groups doubt whether the government’s move is practical and said it could amount to intrusion into personal lives of women. The activists argue that the project to create a pregnancy register in a country of 1.1 billion people is unrealistic.

In the opinion of Alok Mukhopadhyay, head of the Voluntary Health Association of India, “We cannot give elementary health services in a satisfactory way to most of our citizens, and to talk about registering pregnancies is ridiculous.”

The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has welcomed the plan, but said the government needed to provide more facilities for institutional deliveries in rural areas and crack down harder on doctors abetting foeticide.

Marzio Babille, UNICEF’s head of health in India, said “registering pregnancies is good” and that “if we act upon mothers by registering pregnancies, offering quality antenatal care, good counselling to deal with complications and an efficient transportation network, this would enormously help promote institutional deliveries and strengthen and expand the safe maternity scheme.”

At present, India’s infant mortality rate is 57 per 1,000 live births, which is higher than impoverished Bangladesh and Namibia and double that of Egypt.




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