NEW DELHI, November 3 (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Thursday Muslim girls needed to be given better access to education if the country was serious about addressing the inequalities faced by minority groups. Singh's comments, made at a conference of state minority panels, were his latest in a sustained campaign aimed at bridging the gap between the country's majority Hindus and its minority -- but large -- Muslim population. "The main factor responsible for socio-economic backwardness of the minority communities, particularly the Muslim community, is the lack of access to the common school system," said Singh. "This is particularly true in the case of Muslim girls." Plans for setting up schools in predominantly Muslim areas with a sharper focus on the needs of Muslim girls needed to be implemented, he said, adding that Muslim girls should get more access to medical and engineering colleges. Singh's comments came just over a month after he urged regional political leaders to recruit more Muslims into police and intelligence agencies to help counter a growing sense of insecurity amongst the community. Indian Muslims, estimated to number about 140 million in a total population of 1.1 billion, account for the world's third-largest Islamic population after those of Indonesia and Pakistan. Although India's secular constitution promises equal rights and opportunities to all communities, Muslims have traditionally registered lower educational levels and, as a consequence, higher unemployment rates than Hindus. Muslims are also under-represented in public sector jobs and in the army, police and other security agencies. Muslim women are considered to generally lag behind their male counterparts. Singh said that despite many plans implemented to tackle the education, health, employment and housing problems faced by poor minorities, their benefits had not been distributed equally. "We have to provide minority youth skills which will enable them to get their legitimate share in employment, both in the public sector and in the private sector," he said.