Assam crackdown on child marriages continues, sparking women’s protest

Assam crackdown on child marriages continues, sparking women’s protest

More than 2,000 people have been arrested across Assam in an unprecedented crackdown on child marriages, and the authorities pledged on Saturday (February 4) to continue with the sweep.

The mass arrests have triggered unexpected street protests in many areas by women who alleged that taking away their husbands and young sons had left entire families in the lurch.

Crime against women

An unfazed Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said he had told the police to relentlessly “act with a spirit of zero tolerance against the unpardonable and heinous crime on women”.

Media reports quoted Inspector General of Police Prasanta Kumar Bhuyan as saying that 1,793 persons had been taken into custody as of Friday morning. Since then, the numbers have crossed 2,000.

The highest number of 137 arrests took place in Biswanath district, followed by 126 in Dhubri, which borders Bangladesh, 120 in Baksa, 114 in Barpeta and 96 in Korajhar, India Today reported.

Also read: Child marriages among girls: Highest in Jharkhand, nil in Kerala

Among those arrested are 51 purohits and kazis who conducted the illegal weddings.

Any male under 21 years and any female under 18 years marrying in India will attract prosecution under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.

Law against child weddings

Officials in Assam said those who have married girls under 14 years will be punished under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act and those who married girls aged 14-18 will be dealt with under the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act.

In the last 10 days, the police have registered a whopping 4,000 cases under both legislation across Assam. A police official said they had a list of 8,000 suspects and the drive will continue.

The Chief Minister had announced earlier that priests, kazis, and family members involved in such marriages will also be arrested.

Street protests

Women poured out of their homes in large numbers to denounce the arrest of their husbands and sons.

“Why take only the men? How will we and or our children survive? We have no means of income,” 55-year-old Niroda Doley of Majuli district told PTI.

Also read: Child marriages more prevalent in central and western India: Study

A woman from Barpeta district said her son had eloped with a minor girl. “He made a mistake, but why arrest my husband?” she asked.

Monowara Khatoon of Morigaon said, “My daughter-in-law was 17 when she got married. Now she is 19 and five months pregnant. Who will look after her?”

Assam’s problems

Assam suffers from a high rate of maternal and infant mortality, with child marriage being the primary cause. Reportedly, almost a quarter of all marriages registered in the state are in the prohibited age.

Chief Minister Sarma had warned ahead of the crackdown that began on Friday that thousands who engaged in child marriages will be arrested.

(With agency inputs)

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