Authorities arrested a former army soldier and his wife for allegedly aborting female fetuses, several of which were found dumped in a well behind an illegal clinic the couple are charged with running, a police officer said Thursday.

The former soldier, Pritam Singh, had pretended to be a doctor for years and was assisted by his wife Amarjit Kaur, the investigating officer, Jagveer Singh, told The Associated Press.

He said the two had helped deliver many children, but also worked with other expectant parents to determine the sex of their fetuses and abort the female ones — a common, but illegal, practice that has skewed India's gender ratio in favor of boys.

Many Indian families prefer boys and see girls as a burden. While abortion is legal here, finding out the sex of a fetus and aborting it because of its gender is not.

But a law against prenatal sex determination has been widely flouted among better-off Indians since it was enacted in 1994.

Pritam Singh set up the business after retiring from the army in 1987, and "under the guise of a maternity clinic, he carried out illegal abortions and killed female fetuses," Jagveer Singh said, speaking from the town of Patran town in the northern state of Punjab.

Pritam Singh would then "dump the fetuses in a well behind the clinic," he added.

The arrests were made Wednesday, and the two have been charged with violating India's laws protecting female fetuses. If convicted, they face between three and 10 years in prison.

Police were tipped off after the couple fired a woman who assisted in delivering children. The woman then told the police that the couple was dumping aborted female fetuses in the unused well.

The officer said it was hard to estimate the precise number of fetuses because most were badly decomposed, but added that samples taken from the site were being tested.