Claiming that the Assam government’s fortnight-long crackdown on child marriage had a “positive” impact in the state, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Friday said several families had cancelled scheduled weddings of underage people as a fallout of the ongoing drive.
The operation started on February 3 and 3,031 people have been apprehended against registration of 4,225 cases till Tuesday. “Reports are coming from various parts of Assam that several families have cancelled pre-scheduled marriages between underage children after our drive against such illegal practices,” Sarma wrote on Twitter.
“This is definitely a positive impact of our two-week long crackdown against child marriage,” he added on the micro-blogging site. Opposition parties have criticised the manner in which the drive is being carried out, terming the arrests of teenage husbands and family members as an "abuse of law" for political gain, and equating the police action with "terrorising people".
The Gauhati High Court had also come down heavily on the state government for slapping stringent laws like the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) and rape charges on child marriage accused, and stated that these are "absolutely weird" allegations.
Observing that arresting a large number of people in the crackdown has created "havoc in the private life of people", Justice Suman Shyam had on February 14 said there is no need for custodial interrogation of the accused in such cases.
Coming under criticism for failing to secure the future of the affected women and their children, the government had on February 9 formed a cabinet sub-committee for rehabilitation of the "victims".
Asserting that the drive will continue till the 2026 Assembly election, Sarma had justified the measures and said nearly 17 per cent of over 6.2 lakh pregnant women in Assam last year were teenagers, according to the Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) portal.
The state cabinet had recently approved a proposal to book men who have married girls below 14 years of age under the POCSO. Cases under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 will be registered against those who have married girls in the 14-18 age group, the cabinet had decided.
The offenders will be arrested and the marriages declared illegal. If the groom is below 14 years of age, he will be sent to a reform house. Assam has a high rate of maternal and infant mortality, with child marriage being the primary cause, according to reports by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS).