Editor's note: Today we welcome Deepali Gaur Singh, writing from India. She has experience in childcare, health, and education; she will be covering reproductive health issues on the continent of Asia.
At a time when even children from rural marginal families in one part of India—the southern state of Karnataka—are engaging in information dissemination on HIV with a specific focus on stigma and discrimination, adult policy-makers in five states of the country have rejected the new syllabus introduced by the national government's Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) featuring sex education as a dedicated subject for middle school students. Just as the central government gets credit for taking one of the most proactive steps with regard to both education and children in recent times (by directing all states to include the subject in their curriculum), and with the training of teachers also underway, it's ironic that the resistance to the move has come from just about every quarter possible.
In the past week there have been two sets of startling stories about India and reproductive rights in the news.
The first story is based on a government survey finding that 40% of Indian women have not heard of AIDS. India has 5.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS per UN figures. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS), the most extensive study on health and nutrition in India, said in its latest report only 57 percent of women have heard of AIDS. In rural areas, where most Indians live, a mere 46% of women were aware of the disease.
The second story reports that GE ultrasound machines in India are being used for sex selection. Under Indian law, doctors who operate ultrasound machines can only use them in the case of an abnormal pregnancy and must fill out forms showing the reason for each procedure. However the only machines that the government can monitor are the 25,770 machines that are registered. The London Daily Main places estimates of the actual number of machines in use at anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000, according to the British Medical Journal. The portable ones that make it to rural areas, if unregistered and unregulated can allow any woman to determine the sex of her child. The fetus can then be terminated at a government hospital, where abortions, like other procedures, are free for those who cannot pay.