New census data has shown that rural India has experienced a sharp fall in the ratio of female to male children, indicating that sex-selection technology has reached even the country's remotest areas.
According to figures released Friday, India's villages house just 919 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of six, reflecting a massive decline from the 2001 ratio showing 934 girls for every 1,000 boys.
The data will be seen to confirm fears that villagers are now using cheap and portable ultrasound technology easily available in India's cities in order to carry out illegal sex-selective abortions in favour of the male child.
The ratio in urban India, at 902 girls per 1,000 boys, is worse than in the countryside but the drop -- from 906 girls in 2001 -- is much smaller than the steep fall seen in the villages.
The national ratio, 914 girls for every 1,000 boys, is at its lowest since independence in 1947 and compares with a global average of 1,050 girls for every 1,000 boys.
Married women in India face huge pressure to produce male heirs who are seen as breadwinners, family leaders and carers when parents age.
Girls are often viewed as a burden in traditional families as they require hefty dowries to be married off.
In the last few decades, successive governments have launched an array of schemes to alter the social bias against having girls, including offering cash incentives to expectant parents, but they have had little impact.
As many as half a million female foetuses are estimated to be aborted each year in India despite the practice being banned in the country, according to a 2006 study by British medical journal Lancet.
The latest figures, released by Home Secretary R.K. Singh, suggest the collective failure of efforts to deal with the problem, such as a crack down on the abortion of female foetuses and other illegal gender-selection methods.
The new data also shows while India's population remains largely rural, its urban population has grown to 377 million, or 31.1 per cent of India's 1.21 billion population, from 286 million or 27.8 per cent of the population in 2001.