Few things cast a long shadow on human failing as much as sex selection does. To choose on the basis of gender and eliminate new life if the gender is not favourable can easily be among humanitys worst moments. Last weeks case of infanticide in Tamil Nadus Usilampatti, historically notorious for its crude methods of killing female babies, sent a chill down the spine of the country. Years after it was believed that awareness generation and targeted behaviour change communication had led to people giving up the inhuman practice of feeding female infants with the toxic milk of a local herb, the news that a couple had reportedly used the same method to kill their second girl child, just a month old, had child rights activists wringing their hands in frustration. Chekkanoorani, a suburb near Usilampatti, in Madurai district, was the scene of the crime, where police arrested a young couple and the paternal grandfather of the child for having fed the 31-day-old with the toxic juice, killing her. This is no isolated case in a nation of missing girls. Data on sex ratio at birth (SRB) culled from the Civil Registration System, show an alarming fall over the years. From 903 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2007, it dropped to 877 in 2016.
Four States have an SRB equal to or below 840: Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan (806), Bihar (837), Uttarakhand (825) and Tamil Nadu (840). Activists point out that while infanticide may have come down, sex selective abortion at scan centres continues as the preferred vehicle for parents (and grandparents) obsessed with son preference. This despite the fact that the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act was enacted and amended to arm the state to wage a war against this pernicious practice. The Centres Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign aimed at saving girl children has a huge unfinished task in front of it. Tamil Nadu, at one stage under the leadership of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, effectively employed the Cradle Baby Scheme to counter infanticide, along with effective awareness campaigns. The cradles are still there, and the babies are coming too, but the SRB has been steadily dropping since 2011. It is time again for the government to ramp up awareness building exercises, and this time use technology to monitor every single pregnant woman right down to taluk levels until at least one year after birth. While punitive aspects might offer a measure of deterrence, true change can only be brought about by a change in attitude. As Amartya Sen argued: while at birth boys outnumber girls, after conception, biology seems on the whole to favor women. The weapon that the government needs to use now is one that will be powerful enough to eliminate the perversion of son preference from peoples minds.