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Over 4,000 cases & 3,000 arrests — Assam govt commits to ending child marriage ‘within 2 years’

Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma directs police to conduct review every 6 months. State DGP GP Singh says crackdown on child marriage is ‘religion-neutral’ exercise.

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Guwahati: Over two weeks since the Assam government launched a statewide crackdown against child marriage, police have registered 4,244 cases and arrested 3,058 individuals till 17 February, Assam Director General of Police (DGP) G.P. Singh told ThePrint Saturday.

DGP Singh said the drive against child marriage is “a religion-neutral exercise” and data represents the prevalence of child marriage in particular communities. “On the basis of surveys carried out by health authorities over the last year, prevalence of child marriage is much higher in districts like Dhubri, South Salmara, Barpeta and Goalpara. Naturally, cases and arrests are more from these districts,” Singh added.

Taking to Twitter, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said Friday that the government has decided to build “a robust ecosystem to stop child marriage in Assam within 2 years”. “This mission involving various stakeholders will have sufficient budgetary support,” he said.

The decision, he added, was taken after a conference with superintendents of police and deputy commissioners from across the state. The conference held at Administrative Staff College in Guwahati was also attended by secretaries of gaon panchayats.

Speaking to local media after the conference, Sarma said his government has directed the police to initiate “toughest possible action” against perpetrators of child marriage and to review the situation every six months. “We will take action within the ambit of law, and implement a technique through which child marriage can be curbed in two years,” he said.

Suggesting a mechanism for prevention of child marriages, he added that “any case of child marriage reported at a particular village will go through the necessary legal procedures”.

“We have to set up call centres, and notices have to be sent immediately when cases come to light. In due course of time, a village may also be recognised child-marriage free,” the chief minister asserted.

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Crackdown on child marriage has ‘nothing to do with religion’

In a tweet Friday morning, Sarma had mentioned that the government is receiving reports from various parts of the state about “several families cancelling pre-scheduled marriages between under age children”.

“This is definitely a positive impact of our two-week long crackdown against child marriage,” the tweet read. 

He went further to add that “child marriage is a social scourge and the state is committed to ensure this evil practice is stopped”.

Sarma also clarified that the crackdown is aimed at apprehending “accused and perpetrators” of this crime, and has nothing to do with their “religious affiliations”. 

According to the chief minister, those arrested in connection with child marriage cases include at least 2,950 men and 93 women.

Those arrested have been booked under two laws: The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012, and Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.

“The courts are apprised of the details and out of 3047 arrests, only 251 (8.23%) have been granted bail,” Sarma said in another tweet Friday.

Of the 6,700 individuals booked on these charges, as many as 2,587 have been sent to judicial custody and 56 to police custody (till 17 February 2023), said Sarma.

According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 50.8 per cent of women in Dhubri between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before 18, and 22.4 per cent aged 15-19 were either mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey. Data also showed that of the married women in Dhubri between the ages of 15 and 49, 5.1 per cent admitted that their spouses used condoms and 44.2 per cent used contraceptives such as birth control pills. 

The figures were equally alarming in South Salmara-Mankachar where 44.7 per cent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18, and 22 per cent of women aged 15-19 had either borne children or were expecting at the time of the survey.

Similarly, the numbers for Goalpara stood at 41.8 per cent and 13.3 per cent respectively, for Barpeta at 40.1 per cent and 14.2 per cent, for Hojai at 30.9 per cent and 15.6 per cent, and for Kokrajhar at 36.2 per cent and 11.3 per cent. Although the survey was released last May, fieldwork for it was conducted between June 2019 and December 2019.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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