India now has seven million fewer girls than boys under the age of seven because women are aborting girls due to pressure from families to have boys.
In India girls are seen as a financial burden. Last year, a journalist expressed concern that British Indian women were going abroad to abort their baby girls.
Now a study published in The Lancet estimates that 12 million girls were aborted in India over the last three decades.
Researchers said that wealthier or more educated women were more likely to abort girls because they could afford to pay for sex tests and abortions.
Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research, said the findings were “worrisome and threatening” because “we always believed when people are rich and educated they will be more socially aware but that is not the case”.
The report exposes the failure of a 1996 law in India which banned sex screening tests in an attempt to stop “female foeticide”.
Researchers found that families who already had one girl were more likely to abort a second pregnancy if they knew the unborn baby was female.
The study, based on India’s 2011 census and earlier population data, estimated that there were up to 600,000 selective abortions of unborn baby girls in India per year.
Last year, journalist Kishwar Desai, pointed to statistics from the University of Oxford which estimated that almost 100 baby girls were “disappearing” from British Indian families every year.
Lady Desai, who was born in Ambala, Northern India, said that while her own parents were “delighted” at her birth, other relatives were “horrified” at the birth of a girl.
She said by most western standards aborting a baby because it’s a girl would be horrific, but in India it makes “sound economic sense”.
She added: “Jewellery, cash, cars, even houses – the value of the dowry an Indian girl’s family must pay to the family of her future husband can run to tens of thousands of pounds”.
“Marrying off one daughter can be expensive, but two, three… that can be ruinous”, she said.
She said that estimates varied as to how many Indian women are now ‘missing’ but “Female foeticide, gendercide – call it what you will – it’s a terrible and chilling statistic”.