Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994
The PCPNDT (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act of September 20, 1994, aims to prohibit sex selection before or after conception; regulate pre-natal diagnostic techniques for detecting genetic abnormalities, metabolic disorders, chromosomal abnormalities, congenital malformations or sex-linked disorders; and prevent the misuse of pre-natal diagnostic techniques for sex determination leading to ‘female foeticide’. (The Act uses this term, but it has since been debated among rights groups; the preferred term is ‘sex-selective abortion’.)
The Act stipulates that no genetic counselling centre, laboratory or clinic shall conduct or facilitate the use of any pre-natal diagnostic technique to determine the sex of a foetus. It states that no person shall cause or allow sex selection before or after conception.
The Act defines ‘pre-natal diagnostic techniques’ as all pre-natal diagnostic procedures and tests. ‘Pre-natal diagnostic procedures’ are all gynaecological, obstetrical or medical procedures for conducting any type of analysis or pre-natal diagnostic test for sex-selection before or after conception – including ultrasonography, foetoscopy, and taking samples of amniotic fluid, chorionic villi, embryo, blood or any other tissue or fluid of a man or woman before or after conception to be sent to a genetic laboratory or clinic. ‘Pre-natal diagnostic test’ refers to ultrasonography or any test or analysis of the amniotic fluid, chorionic villi, blood or any tissue or fluid of a pregnant woman to detect genetic or metabolic disorders, chromosomal abnormalities, congenital anomalies, haemoglobinopathies or sex-linked (genetic) diseases.
The Act extends to the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir.
Who can conduct pre-natal diagnostic techniques under this Act?
Only those genetic counselling centres, laboratories or clinics that are registered under this Act shall conduct, associate with, or facilitate activities related to pre-natal diagnostic techniques. Such entities shall not employ or take services from anyone who does not possess the qualifications prescribed by this Act. No medical geneticist, gynaecologist, paediatrician, registered medical practitioner or any other person shall conduct, cause to be conducted, or aid in conducting any pre-natal diagnostic techniques at a venue other than those registered under this Act.
No person – including an infertility specialist or a team of specialists – shall conduct, cause to be conducted, or aid in conducting sex selection on a woman, man or both, or on any tissue, embryo, fluid, gametes or any product of conception derived from either or both of them.
No person shall sell any ultrasound machine, imaging machine, scanner or any other equipment capable of detecting the sex of a foetus to any genetic counselling centre, laboratory or clinic, or any person who is not registered under the Act.
What are the abnormalities for which pre-natal diagnostic techniques can be used?
The Act mandates that pre-natal diagnostic techniques shall only be conducted for detecting abnormalities that include genetic metabolic diseases, haemoglobinopathies, sex-linked genetic diseases, congenital anomalies, chromosomal abnormalities, or any other abnormalities or diseases specified by the Central Supervisory Board.
What is the Central Supervisory Board?
The Act stipulates that the central government constitute a such a board with the minister in charge of the Ministry or Department of Family Welfare, government of India, as its chairperson.
The Board shall advise the central government on matters relating to the use and misuse of pre-natal diagnostic techniques and sex selection techniques; monitor the implementation of the Act and recommend changes; create public awareness against sex selection and the pre-natal determination of the sex of a foetus; prescribe rules for genetic counselling centres, laboratories and clinics; and execute any other functions prescribed by the Act.
What are the conditions under which a qualified person is allowed to conduct pre-natal diagnostic techniques?
The Act stipulates that a person qualified to conduct pre-natal diagnostic techniques shall only do so if the pregnant woman is above 35 years; or has undergone two or more abortions or ‘foetal loss’; or has been exposed to potentially ‘teratogenic’ agents such as drugs, radiation, infection or chemicals; or she or her spouse has a family history of ‘mental retardation’ or physical deformities; or any other condition as may be specified by the Central Supervisory Board.
Any deficiency or inaccuracy found in the ultrasonography records shall amount to contravention of the provisions of the Act, unless the person conducting the procedure proves otherwise. No person – including the husband or any relative of a woman – shall seek or encourage any sex selection technique on her or him or both.
What does the Act say about the consent of a pregnant woman and communicating the sex of the foetus?
The Act stipulates that a person qualified to conduct pre-natal diagnostic techniques shall explain all known side effects of the procedure to the pregnant woman. The person shall obtain her written consent to undergo such procedures in a language which she understands, and provide her with a copy of the same.
The Act states that no person shall communicate the sex of the foetus – by words, signs, or in any other manner – to the pregnant woman, her relatives, or any other person.
What does the Act say about advertisements of pre-natal sex determination?
No person or organisation that has the technology to determine the sex of a foetus shall issue, publish, distribute or communicate any advertisement of its facilities in any form, or facilitate the same.
What are the penalties prescribed in the Act?
Any person or entity that contravenes the provisions of this Act shall be punishable with imprisonment for up to three years and with a fine of up to Rs. 10,000. On any subsequent conviction under this Act, they can be imprisoned for up to five years and fined up to Rs. 50,000.
Anyone who seeks the aid of a genetic counselling centre, laboratory or clinic, a registered practitioner or any other person who can conduct pre-natal diagnostic techniques for purposes other than those specified in this Act shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term of up to three years and a fine of up to Rs. 50,000. On any subsequent conviction under this Act, such persons cab be imprisoned for up to five years and fined up to Rs. 1 lakh. These provisions shall not apply to a woman who is compelled to undergo such diagnostic techniques or selection.
Focus and Factoids by Gokul K.P.
Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India
Government of India, New Delhi
20 Sep, 1994