Under this, a case will be registered under the POCSO Act against those who marry girls below the age of 14 in Assam. Apart from this, those marrying girls aged 14 to 18 will be arrested under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. In case of child marriage, if the age of the bride and groom is less than 14 years, declaring the marriage illegal, the groom will be presented in the Juvenile Court after arrest. The police have been directed to launch a massive state-wide campaign within the next two weeks to curb child marriage. The legal age for marriage in the country is 21 and 18 years for boys and girls respectively.
Sociologists have welcomed this initiative of the government. But some organizations have expressed apprehension that this law might be misused to harass the people belonging to minority communities. The state government has been in headlines in the past for some of its decisions against minorities.
The rate of child marriage is 50 per cent in the state’s Dhubri, which borders Bangladesh, and 44.7 per cent in South Salmara district. The government argues that the rate of maternal and infant mortality in Assam is very high and the primary reason for this is child marriage. Government statistics say that more than 11 percent of the girls in the state become mothers at an early age. According to the latest figures of the central government, Assam ranks first in terms of maternal mortality and third in the country in terms of infant mortality.
The Assam cabinet has approved this decision of the government. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma explains, “On an average, 31 percent of marriages in the state take place before the age of 18. To curb this grave social evil, now men marrying girls between the ages of 14 and 18 will be subjected to hair loss. Will be prosecuted under the Prohibition of Marriage Act, 2006.”
He said that the police have been instructed to take comprehensive action against child marriage across the state. A child protection officer will be appointed in every village. The Gram Panchayat Secretary has been instructed to register a complaint regarding child marriages taking place in the area. Police will launch a massive campaign against child marriage in the state in the next 15 days.
Citing the report of the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-20), the Chief Minister said that more than one lakh girls in the state have been married before their age. It is clear from this that the cases of child marriage are continuously increasing in Assam. According to a survey of the state government, a girl of only nine years has become a mother in Assam. Describing the child marriage in the state as a historical mistake, Sarma said that the previous governments did not pay attention to the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. This is the reason why the mortality rate of mothers and infants here is the highest in the country. Now the government is trying to rectify this historical mistake. The Chief Minister expressed hope of making Assam completely free from child marriage in the next five years.
Praising the Karnataka government’s initiative against child marriage, Sarma said that there the government has appointed child protection officers, from which he has taken inspiration. The Karnataka government has succeeded in stopping 11,000 child marriages and 10,000 cases have been registered.
picture in numbers
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) survey report, more than 31 per cent women in the age group of 20 to 24 years in Assam were married before the age of 18 years. In the year 2019-20, the national average in this case was slightly more than 23 per cent. Compared to the 2015-16 figures of the AFHS report, there has been a one per cent increase in child marriages in four years. The Chief Minister says that the government said that the government has taken this decision only to curb the high mortality rate of mothers and children in the state. According to data released by the Registrar General of India for the year 2022, Assam has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country with 195 deaths per one lakh newborns between 2018 and 2020. It ranks third in terms of infant mortality rate.
The Chief Minister says that the number of girls getting pregnant at a young age in Assam is 11.7 percent. This is proof of the large number of child marriages taking place in the state. In the border district of Dhubri, even young women have to become mothers at an early age. There 50 percent marriages are happening before the legal age. The average child marriage in Assam is 31 per cent. Even in Jorhat and Sivasagar districts, which are considered very progressive in the state, 24.9 percent of the girls are getting married at an early age.
Social organizations have welcomed this initiative of the government. But at the same time it has been said that the government will have to take care that this rule should not be used to harass a particular section. Saugata Bhattacharya, secretary of an NGO working for child protection, says, “The intention of the government is commendable. Child marriage is a serious and bitter social evil. Attention will also have to be paid, lest it become a weapon to harass the minorities.”
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