Shocking new findings from ActionAid reveal a growing crisis in India where the number of girls born and surviving compared to boys has hit an all time low.
ActionAid collaborated with Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the report, Disappearing Daughters, will be presented at a UK parliamentary reception of the all-party group on population, development and reproductive health on Monday 23 June.
Findings from sites across five states in north and northwest India reveal that the sex ratio of girls to boys has not only worsened but is accelerating compared to the last national census in 2001.
Latest figures from one site in the Punjab, India’s richest state, show the number of girls has plummeted to just 300 compared to 1000 boys amongst higher cast families.
And everywhere else, with the exception of Rajasthan, already low figures are continuing to slide. Even in Rajasthan, the proportion of girls is well below what should be the norm of around 950 girls born for every 1000 boys.
In a culture that predominantly views girls as an expense rather than an asset, women are put under intense pressure to produce sons.
The trend for smaller families is also deepening the aversion to daughters, with the use of ultrasound technology now being used to plan families. This is despite the existence of laws banning prenatal sex detection and sex selective abortion.
ActionAid has also found that girls are more likely to be born but less likely to survive in areas with more limited access to public health services and modern ultrasound technology. In rural Morena and Dhaulpur, deliberate neglect of girls, including allowing the umbilical cord to become infected, is used as a way to dispose of unwanted daughters.
Such neglect ensures fewer surviving daughters, with the best chances of being born and surviving as a girl depending on the birth order in your family.
All survey sites showed a decline in the proportion of girls among second-born children. And in three of the survey sites, for every 1000 third-born boys, there were fewer than 750 girls.
Laura Turquet, women’s rights policy officer at ActionAid said: "The real horror of the situation is that for women, avoiding having daughters is a rational choice. But for wider society it’s creating an appalling and desperate state of affairs."
It is estimated that around 10 million female foetuses may have been aborted in India over the last two decades and according to the Lancet over 500,000 are currently being aborted every year.
The development of India as an economic power has not changed the preference for sons over daughters. Wholesale discrimination against daughters crosses class, caste and state barriers in India.
Laura Turquet continued: "Tackling this complex issue means taking immediate action around enforcing the law against using ultrasound for sex selection and improving access to health care and education in poorer areas.
"In the long term, cultural attitudes need to change. India must address economic and social barriers including property rights, marriage dowries and gender roles that condemn girls before they are even born.
"If we don’t act now the future looks bleak."
Disappearing Daughters shows that without sustained action on many fronts, millions more women will go missing in India.