Compared to boys, the number of girls born and surviving in India has hit an all time low, says ActionAid.
Increasing numbers of female foetuses are being aborted, and baby girls deliberately neglected and left to die, shows a report by the UK charity.
It says that in the Punjab state for example, there are just 300 girls to every 1000 boys among higher caste families.
If it does not end its practice of cultural preference for boys, India faces a “bleak” future, says ActionAid.
The UK charity teamed up with Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), in order to produce the Disappearing Daughters report.
In sites accross fives states in north-western India, more than 6000 households were interviewed. Then statistical comparisons were made with national census date.
The charity said that there should be about 950 girls for every 1000 boys, under “normal” circumstances. But it added that the number was below 800 in three of the five sites.
The report also said that, since a 2001 census, the proportion of girls to boys had declined in four of the five sites surveyed.
And in comparatively prosperous urban areas, that ratios of girls to boys were declining fastest, found the report.
A factor in the trend may be the increasing use of ultrasound technology, suggested ActionAid.
But in a culture that predominantly views girls as a burden rather than an asset, intense pression is put on Indian woman to produce son, says the document.
And despite the 1994 law that bans gender selection and selective abortion, the report adds that many families now use ultrasound scans and abort female foetuses.
Other illegal practices, like allowing the umbilical cord to become infected, are also blamed by the charity, for the growing gender imbalance.
“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”, said Laura Turquet, women’s rights policy official at ActionAid.
“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”, Ms Turquet said.
In India, in the past 20 years, some 10 million female foetuses have been aborted, has said the British medical journal the Lancet.