The current United Progressive Alliance government set aside this day in 2009. The chosen date corresponds to the day in 1966 when Indira Gandhi became India’s first woman prime minister. The Catholic Church celebrates the same event on 8 September, nativity of Mary.
With the introduction of ultrasound and amniocentesis, tens of thousands of female foetuses were never born. The tests were “originally designed for detection of congenital abnormalities of the foetus,” said Dr Carvalho, who is also a member of the Human Life Committee of the Archdiocese of Bombay. Now, they “are being misused to know the sex of the foetus with the intention of aborting it if it happens to be that of a female.”
In order to stop such abuses, the government passed the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technologies Act, which include penalties for anyone, doctor or parent, who carries out such tests for this purpose.
Yet, “Even though the law is a powerful instrument of change, alone it cannot root out this social problem,” Dr Carvalho said. “Girls are devalued not only because of economic considerations but also because of socio-cultural factors,” like lineage, protection for parents in their old age and rituals like lighting the funeral pyre and other death related rites. “Culturally, girl children are not valued and, in many Indian communities, familial and social pressures often dictate who is born and who survives.”
In some regions, sati is still practiced, whereby a widow joins her husband in the funeral pyre in order to fulfil her role as wife. However, it is a way to remove the economic "burden" of the woman.
The Central Supervisory Board set up to monitor implementation of the Act has investigated the matter. So far, 94 doctors have been convicted under the Act, but licences of only 15 have been revoked by the Medical Council of India (MCI).
Whilst the government does not oppose such technologies, they should be used for their original purpose. District authorities can monitor how they are used, said joint secretary in the health ministry Anuradha Gupta.
Beside the government, the Catholic Church has also taken steps to counter gender discrimination and protect the rights and freedom of girls. In 2010, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India adopted in fact a gender policy with strategies to protect and promote girls.
The police includes protecting girls from any form of discrimination and abuse, sexual or otherwise; projecting a positive female images among girls, boys, parents, teachers and society at large; avoiding all forms of stereotyping in Church-run inter- and extra-curricular activities; and promoting government programmes for girls in homilies, hospitals, dispensaries and catechism classes.