Concerned over high prevalence of child marriage in six States — Odisha, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal — the National Human Rights Commission has directed the State governments to make concerted efforts to curb this social menace.In the first of a three-part regional conference, the NHRC and representatives of the six States met here on Thursday to discuss factors responsible for continuation of this archaic social custom, and practices adopted to eliminate child marriages from the society. The two other conferences would be held in western and southern States of India.The National Family Health Survey-4 had found that 26.8% of women aged 20 to 24 years were married before the age of 18.Of the six States under review at the Bhubaneswar conference, Bihar and West Bengal had the highest incidence of child marriages. Bengal tops the listIn fact, West Bengal topped the list with 40.7% of women aged 20 to 24 years married before the age of 18. Bihar followed with 39.1% against the national average of 26.8%. While Jharkhand and Assam were ranked higher than the national average, Chhattisgarh and Odisha were placed just below the national average.Addressing the conference, NHRC member S.C. Sinha said, “According to a report, 40% of all child marriages in the world are performed in India. It is totally unacceptable. Despite Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, being in force, only 293 and 326 cases were reported under the Act in 2015 and 2016 respectively.”The low reporting of child marriages indicates that there are social sanctions, said Mr. Sinha. An estimated 3,600 child marriages are solemnised in India every day.“A girl remaining unmarried is still an oddity in society. In most cases, parents resort to early marriage of their girls in order to protect their chastity. It is normal in many communities,” said the NHRC member.Health risk“The society is still unaware of the health risk being faced by a girl if she is married early. Since the reproduction decisions are taken mostly by males, health condition of girls deteriorates at the time of childbirth,” he pointed out.The NHRC emphasised the need for creating opportunities for continuation of girls’ education and skill development to make them employable.“It is extremely important to probe reasons and influences and then find ways to transform mindsets,” the commission said.Stating that the National Plan of Action for Children (2016-21) makes specific commitments, the NHRC said the 2013 National Policy for Children did not provide a clear mandate and it is due for an official review in 2018, which offers an opportunity for increased focus on the social evils of child marriage.