2,258 people arrested in Assam after govt crackdown on ‘child marriages’

Police arrest men allegedly involved in child marriages, during Assam govt's statewide crackdown on child marriages, in Guwahati, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. | Photo: PTI

Women in different parts of the state have expressed displeasure against the move and demanded release of their husbands.

Huneza Khan | TwoCircles.net 

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GUWAHATI (ASSAM) – Continuing the statewide crackdown on child marriages, Assam Police have arrested a total of 2,258 people so far, an official said on Saturday.

Rajib Saikia, PRO of Assam Police, has said that the highest numbers of arrests were reported from Biswanath district where 139 people were detained and 97 cases were registered against child marriage.

Barpeta district has the second highest number of arrests, which stands at 128 against the total number of 81 cases lodged.

The Muslim-dominated district of Dhubri logs the third-highest arrests. Already 127 people have been arrested by the police here with 374 complaints of child marriages registered.

The arrests come in the wake of the Assam cabinet’s decision to book men who marry girls aged below 14 under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. Those who marry girls in the age group of 14-18 years will be tried under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.

The offenders will be arrested and the marriages declared illegal.

Chief Minister Himanta Sarma Biswa said men marrying girls below 14 years of age will be facing non-bailable charges, while those marrying girls between 14 and 16 years of age will be charged under bailable sections. If the groom is below 14 years of age, he will be sent to a reform house.

The move aims to curb child marriages and early motherhood in the state. According to National Family Health Survey, Assam has a high rate of maternal and infant mortality rates, with child marriage being the primary cause.

An average of 31% marriages registered in the state are in the prohibited age group, the NFHS had noted.

As per National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) 2019-21, around 11.7% of the women between age 15-19 in Assam were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey.

TwoCircles.net reported in May 2011 how ailing education system in Assam is one of the main causes of child marriage and early age labour.

Part III: Dropouts prompted by ailing education system leads to child marriage, early age labour in Assam minority region

Women oppose the move
The government’s crackdown on child marriages hasn’t gone down well with women in Assam, especially those from Dhubri, which has the highest number of child marriages in the state.

Scores of women descended on the streets in Dhubri on Saturday as police came to arrest their husbands and sons. Demanding the release of their family members, the women gathered in front of Tamarha police station.

Many women in different parts of the state have also expressed displeasure over the arrest of their husbands. They have been protesting outside the police stations against the crackdown. “Who will feed the family if their spouses are jailed,” they have asked. 

Family members of those accused in the child marriage crackdown protested in front of Tamarhat Police Station in Assam | Picture: India Today

Criticising the move, All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi hit out at the Assam chief minister asking what would be in store for the minor girls, whose husbands have been apprehended and put behind bars. He slammed Sarma for being ‘biased’ and said the move is an ‘administrative failure’ of the state as the BJP-led government is taking such an action after ruling Assam for six years.

Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Saturday, however, made it clear that the police operation against child marriage will continue in the state.

“People should not try to draw sympathy on this issue. This is extremely necessary to save the future generation,” he said. (With IANS inputs)

Huneza Khan is a journalist from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. She tweets @KhanHuneza