The World Health Organization, in a 1997 report, estimated as many as 50 million Chinese girls are missing since the problem appeared in the early 1980s.
The births of many girls are simply not reported, Chinese experts say.
Yet hundreds of thousands of unwanted baby girls are abandoned, aborted and even killed each year.
For poor, rural families, the choice is as stark as it is cruel.
That's up from a shortfall of about 500,000 in 1990.
To keep a girl risks public ridicule in villages where traditions favoring boys still run strong.
Government limits on family sizes imposed since 1979 also mean that by keeping a girl, couples can lose their chance for a boy--long prized in China as the heir who will carry on the family name, till the family plot and care for his parents in old age."A woman without a son will be cursed by her mother-in-law and laughed at by the village," says Liu, a farmer in the impoverished eastern province of Anhui.