Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday made an emotional appeal to save female children, observing that the South Asian country was living with the "ignominy" of an adverse gender balance, dpa reported.
Describing the practice of female foeticide as "most inhuman, uncivilized and reprehensible," Singh, who was addressing a national conference on the girl child in New Delhi, said discrimination against girls began in the Indian homes.
"The last census again showed a declining sex ratio. Multiple deprivations all with roots in the oppressive structure of patriarchy have resulted in a bias against girls and women. This is a national shame and we must face the challenge squarely here and now," he said.
"We are an ancient civilization and we call ourselves a modern nation. And yet, we live with the ignominy of an adverse gender balance due to social discrimination against women," he said.
Urging people and authorities to bring an end to female foeticide, Singh said he was making the appeal not as the prime minister of India but as the "proud father" of three daughters.
"I wish for every girl in our country what I wish for my own daughters," he said.
Government data shows that the female child sex ratio in the 0 to 6 age group has been showing a continuous decline over the past four decades.
Singh said there was an "alarming" decline in girls per 1,000 boys born, from 962 in 1981 to 927 in 2001.
The census figures illustrate that the problem is acute in the country's richest states including Punjab, which has only 798 girls per 1,000 boys, Haryana 819, national capital Delhi 868 and Gujarat which has 883 girls per 1,000 boys.
Traditionally, daughters are seen as burdens in large sections of Indian society as huge dowries have to be paid for their weddings. Sons are considered breadwinners who look after their parents in old age.
Despite laws against foetal sex determination being implemented 13 years ago, female foeticide is widespread in India. Several cases of female infanticide are also reported from various parts of the country every year.
A study in the British medical journal Lancet of Indian birth rates over the past 20 years has found that the country has 10 million "missing" females. Prenatal sex determination and selective abortion account for 500,000 missing girls annually, concluded the study.