A deeply-felt preference for boys has left more than 60 million women statistically "missing" across India, a government survey has found.
The government's annual economic survey, presented to parliament on Monday indicated that preference for boys led to over 63 million fewer females due to sex selective abortions and early deaths.
A sex ratio of 943 females per 1,000 males has led to the identification of some 63 million "missing" women, it noted. A further 21 million are classed as “unwanted” because birth pattern suggests their parents kept having children until reaching the desired number of sons.
In addition, the survey found that "families where a son is born are more likely to stop having children than families where a girl is born." Many women say they face intense pressure, most often from mothers-in-law, to have sons.
"Consigning these odious categories to history soon should be society's objective," the survey said, adding, "A son 'meta' preference ... may be detrimental to female children because it may lead to fewer resources devoted to them."
"The challenge of gender is long-standing, probably going back millennia," wrote the report's author, chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, noting that India must "confront the societal preference for boys."
Analysts said that the government must do more to ensure equal rights for women.
"There is no recognition of the failure of economic policy with respect to women's rights and women's work - including unpaid labour," said Jayati Ghosh, a professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
"They are also not doing enough to stop violence against women, which is seriously limiting women's labor participation," she added.
Studies have long shown that Indian girls are less educated than boys, have poorer nutrition and receive less medical attention.
Sons are seen as breadwinners in India while daughters are a financial burden. The birth of a son is often a cause for celebration and family pride, while the birth of a daughter can be a time of embarrassment and even mourning.
Many of the best scores for women's development, the report noted, were in India's northeast, "a model for the rest of the country”. India’s northeast forms a cluster of states that hang off the country's edge, where most people are ethnically closer to China and Myanmar. Some people do not even see themselves as Indian in the region.