Guwahati: Assam government has decided to arrest all those who were involved in child marriage and put them behind the bars. From now on, males or husbands who were responsible for minors’ pregnancies would be booked under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO) in the state.
The state government’s decision came after an official survey conducted by the health department revealed shocking statistics that in Assam, an average of 31 percent of girls were married off by their families before the legal marriage age of 18 for women in the country. Nationally, 23.3 percent of women were married off before attaining the age of 18.
On Monday, state chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma following a cabinet meeting of the ministers said that he has directed the state police to launch a massive crackdown against child marriage and especially the males involved in it.
“It’s shocking to find out that such huge numbers of minor girls were victims of child marriage. Since any kind of sexual offence against a minor is a crime under POCSO, the state government has deiced to book all the husbands who are responsible for impregnating a girl before 18 under the Act. The punishment for such an offence may lead to life imprisonment,” Sarma said.
As per the official statistics, the teenage pregnancy rate in Assam was recorded at an average of 16.16 percent in 2022-23 with Barpeta district having the maximum rate of 28.30 percent. Similarly, the rate of teen pregnancy was also recorded as very high in Dhubri and South Salmara districts at 26.8 percent and Goalpara at 23.39 percent.
Though the survey found that the trend of child marriage was higher in lower Assam districts, there were incidents all over the state. Even districts dominated by tribal populations like Dima Hasao also recorded around 11 percent of teen pregnancy indicating a high number of child marriages.
The CM added, “It’s not about any religion or a particular community. It’s found that almost one lakh child marriages happened in the last year and we can’t let it happen like this. Most importantly, because of the child marriage, the state’s infant and maternal mortality rates were also recorded high.”
The National Family Health Survey (NHFS) 2019-20 found that the infant and child mortality rates in Assam were 31.9 percent whereas the under-five mortality rate (U5MR) was 39.1 percent.
Assam also has 12 percent of teenage pregnancy cases while the national average was only 6.8 percent.
Besides, as per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2021, Assam also witnessed an increase in child marriages from 30.8 percent to 31.8 percent in 2019-21.
According to Census 2011, in Assam, 2.6 lakh children were married off before turning 18 years making it among the top 15 states in the country.
The chief minister added, “From now on, every gaon panchayat secretary will also perform the duty of a child marriage prohibition officer. Though the Centre had asked the state government to appoint the child marriage prohibition officers in 2006, it was not done in the state. But now, we have taken it as a priority and want to make Assam free from child marriage.”
He also said that even the parents of child marriage victims might also have to face legal action.