Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PCPNDT), 1994

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Context:

  • In view of the ongoing lockdown, due to COVID19 pandemic, the Health Ministry has issued a notification dated April 4, 2020, to defer/suspend certain provisions under the PC&PNDT Rules 1996.
  • These Rules pertain to applying for renewal of registration if falling due in this period, submission of reports by diagnostics centres by 5th day of the following month and submission of quarterly progress report (QPR) by the States/UTs.
  • But, a section of the media is speculating that the PC&PNDT (Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection)) Act 1994 has been suspended by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  • MoHFW has clarified that it has not suspended the PC&PNDT Act, which prohibits sex selection before or after conception.

Relevance:
Prelims: Current events of national and international importance. 
Mains:

  • GS I- Society
  • GS II- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Concerned Ministry: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

PCPNDT Act- Background



  • In India, the female to male ratio is 1.08 males for every female.
  • This is a result of the limitations Indian society places on the birth of girls.
  • In the country of India, female foeticide is the earliest stage possible in the discrimination of women and girls. 
  • This process began in early 1990 when ultrasound techniques gained widespread use in India.
  • There was a tendency for families to continuously produce children until a male child was born.
  • Foetal sex determination and sex-selective abortion by medical professionals has today grown into a Rs. 1,000 crore industry (US$ 244 million).
  • Social discrimination against women and a preference for sons have promoted female foeticide in various forms skewing the sex ratio of the country towards men.
  • According to the decennial Indian census, the sex ratio in the 0–6 age group in India went from 104.0 males per 100 females in 1981 to 105.8 in 1991, to 107.8 in 2001, to 109.4 in 2011.
  • The ratio is significantly higher in certain states such as Punjab and Haryana.
  • Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India.
  • The act banned prenatal sex determination.
  • Every genetic counselling centre, genetic laboratory or genetic clinic engaged in counselling or conducting pre-natal diagnostics techniques, like in vitro fertilisation (IVF) with the potential of sex selection (Preimplantation genetic diagnosis) before and after conception comes under the preview of the PCPNDT Act and are banned.


PCPNDT Act: Features and Amendments

Objective:

The main purpose of enacting the act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques after conception and prevent the misuse of a prenatal diagnostic technique for sex-selective abortions.

Offences under this act include:

  1. conducting or helping in the conduct of prenatal diagnostic technique in the unregistered units,
  2. sex selection on a man or woman,
  3. conducting a PND test for any purpose other than the one mentioned in the act,
  4. sale, distribution, supply, renting etc. of any ultrasound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of the foetus.

Main provisions in the act are:

  1. The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception.
  2. It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques, like ultrasound and amniocentesis by allowing them their use only to detect :
    • genetic abnormalities
    • metabolic disorders
    • chromosomal abnormalities
    • certain congenital malformations
    • haemoglobinopathies
    • sex-linked disorders.
  3. No laboratory or centre or clinic will conduct any test including ultrasonography for the purpose of determining the sex of the foetus.
  4. No person, including the one who is conducting the procedure as per the law, will communicate the sex of the foetus to the pregnant woman or her relatives by words, signs or any other method.
  5. Any person who
    • puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities in the form of a notice, circular, label, wrapper or any document, or
    • advertises through the interior or other media in electronic or print form
    • or engages in any visible representation made by means of hoarding, wall painting, signal, light, sound, smoke or gas, can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined Rs. 10,000.
  6. Compulsory registration: The Act mandates compulsory registration of all diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics.


The few basic requirements of the Act are:

  1. Registration under Section (18) of the PC-PNDT Act.
  2. Written consent of the pregnant woman and the prohibition of communicating the sex of fetus under Section 5 of the Act.
  3. Maintenance of records as provided under Section 29 of the Act.
  4. Creating awareness among the public at large by placing the board of prohibition on sex determination.

For any violations of the provisions, the Act provides the following penalties and punishments: 

  1. For doctors/owner of clinics: 
    1. Up to 3 years of imprisonment with fine up to Rs 10,000 for the first offence. 
    2. Up to 5 years of imprisonment with fine up to Rs 50,000 for a subsequent offence. 
    3. Suspension of registration with the Medical Council if charges are framed by the court and till the case is disposed of, removal of the name for 5 years from the medical register in the case of the first offence and permanent removal in case of a subsequent offence.
  2. For husband/family member or any other person abetting sex selection: 
    1. Up to 3 years of imprisonment with a fine up to Rs 50,000 for the first offence. 
    2. Up to 5 years of imprisonment with a fine up to Rs 1 lakh for a subsequent offence. 


Amendment to the PCPNDT Act in 2003

Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT), was amended in 2003 to The Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition Of Sex Selection) Act (PCPNDT Act) to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection.

Implications of the amendment are:

  • Amendment of the act mainly covered bringing the technique of preconception sex selection within the ambit of the act.
  • Bringing ultrasound within its ambit.
  • Empowering the central supervisory board, the constitution of the state-level supervisory board.
  • Provision for more stringent punishments.
  • Empowering appropriate authorities with the power of civil court for search, seizure and sealing the machines and equipment of the violators.
  • Regulating the sale of the ultrasound machines only to registered bodies.

Has the PCPNDT Act fulfilled its objective?

  • While the Act has been lauded for achieving modest success in restricting sex-selective abortions, numbers portray a different story.
  • According to India’s 2011 Census, while the overall female-to-male ratio has improved marginally as compared to the Census of 2001, the child sex ratio has seen a steep decline
  • As per the 2011 Census, the child sex ratio (0-6 years) has actually witnessed a decline from 927 females per thousand males in 2001 to 919 females per thousand males in 2011.
  • Evidently, just the formulation of this policy has failed to achieve its goals.
  • Illegal sex determination still exists. As disclosed by the then Union Health Minister in a written reply submitted to Rajya Sabha on December 2013, only 143 persons have been punished in India for conducting sex determination tests since its formulation in 1994.
  • Families are finding a way around the ban by going to Thailand where there are no laws against it. Doctors use preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a method that involves producing embryos through IVF and implanting only those of the desired gender into the womb. Results are nearly 100% accurate.
  • The burdensome restrictions on ultrasound, which prevent Indian physicians from accessing a valuable imaging modality, have not translated into the social change intended by the PCPNDT Act.
  • Despite its shortcomings, the PCPNDT Act is a well-intentioned piece of social legislation that strengthens the practice of medical ethics by providing a legal incentive for Indian physicians to uphold their obligations.
  • But without institutional mechanisms, it's implementation in spirit has not been achieved. 
  • While the PCPNDT Act succeeds in acknowledging and drawing attention to a grave societal problem, its failure to significantly curb female feticide and its unintended consequence cannot be overlooked.

Way Forward

  • Ultimately, ending female feticide will require a solution as multifaceted and complex as the underlying root causes.
  • Women empowerment groups, SHGs and Asha workers must be involved to bring about behavioural changes.
  • To improve the skewed sex ratio in India, the need goes beyond policymaking, to address cultural and social norms, behaviours, beliefs of people and organizations that foster gender bias.



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