The Indian government's longstanding efforts to address the nation's skewed sex ratio seem to have failed, according to new government figures. In fact, the growth of the proportion of men has accelerated in recent years. While the Modi government's "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" (Save the Girl, Educate the Girl") campaign has not had time to filter through since its launch in 2014, reports that 90% of its modest funding remains unspent suggest that it is unlikely have a significant impact.

A pronounced gender imbalance has contributed to social and economic risks in other countries. China, which has also struggled with the combination of available sex-selective abortions and entrenched patriarchal value systems, is the most prominent example. A critical mass of unmarried men, known as “bare branches", has been linked to social exclusion, organised crime and destabilising migration patterns. Demographers have also suggested that the preference for boys has fuelled the trafficking and forced labour of women and girls, as well as honour killings and sexual violence.

These are all daily realities in India already, and will likely become more acute as the first generation whose parents had access to sex-selective abortions enters its thirties. In the long term, it threatens to hasten a drop in the Indian labour force as the pension-age population triples in the coming decades, straining social services, healthcare provision and productivity.

Together, the adverse impact of India's own bare branches and missing girls may outweigh the “demographic dividend” of higher incomes and development that other nations have experienced as fertility fell. After decades of failed policies, India has missed the opportunity to prevent what is becoming an inexorable demographic crisis.