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Indian Doctor Jailed for Determining Gender of Unborn Child

In India, medical professionals have been sentenced to prison for the first time for using ultrasound technology to determine the sex of an unborn baby. The practice has facilitated the abortion of millions of female fetuses in a country where boys have traditionally been preferred over girls.

A doctor and his assistant in the northern state of Haryana have been jailed for two years, after local authorities sent decoy patients to the doctor's clinic to determine the gender of the women's fetuses.

The prosecution said the doctor used ultrasound to determine the fetuses' sex, and when one was found to be a female, he promised the mother he would "take care" of it.

India banned ultrasound tests done to determine the sex of a fetus in 1994, after it was realized how parents across the country were using the technology. But the practice continues.

Indian experts say at least six-million female fetuses have been eliminated during the past 20 years due to sex-selective abortions. A recent study by the British medical journal The Lancet put the number as high as 10 million.

A consultant with the Center for Women's Development Studies, Sabu George, says authorities must do more to clamp down on doctors for whom such tests and abortions have become a multi-million dollar business.

"It is not difficult to stop the crime, everybody knows which doctors are doing it in any town or any village. So this is public knowledge where it is happening," George said. "But somehow the civil society organizations do not give it adequate priority in terms of stopping the crime, they are not seeing it as genocide."

Social activists campaigning to stop the practice hope the recent conviction and jailing will act as a deterrent to thousands of doctors who conduct such tests, but have never faced prison due to a lax enforcement system.

There has only been one previous prosecution under the law banning ultrasound for sex determination, and it led to a fine for improper maintenance of records.

The practice of aborting females has led to a highly skewed sex ratio in the country. The 2001 census found that the number of women for every 1,000 men had dipped to 933, from 972 a century ago. In some parts of the affluent north, including the Indian capital, the ratio of women to men is even lower.

Social activists say the practice cuts across urban and rural areas as well as social classes.

They say gender selection is part of a larger problem in a society where a girl child is discriminated against, and is considered a liability because parents must pay a dowry when she gets married.