Guwahati: The Guwahati High Court has questioned the ongoing crackdown against Child Marriage by the Assam Government. Granting anticipatory bail to 9 petitioners who had moved to the high court against the arrest, the Guwahati high court also questioned the application of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act against the child marriage offenders who have married girls below 14 years of age.
The Assam police began a crackdown on child marriages across the State on February 3. So far, 3,015 people linked with such child marriage have been booked under the POCSO act 2012 and the Prevention of Child Marriage Act 2006.
Hearing the case, the High Court observed that such cases do not require custodial interrogation. Justice Suman Shyam said, “If marriage is taking place in violation of the law, the law will take its own course. These cases have been happening for time. We will only consider if immediate custodial interrogation is required or not. At this moment, this court thinks that these are not matters for custodial interrogation. We will ask them to appear and record their statements. These are not NDPS, smuggling, stolen property cases,”
The judge was also not happy with the application of the POCSO act in these cases. The judge said: “What is the POCSO here? Merely because POCSO is added, does it mean judges will not see what is there? We are not acquitting anyone here. No one is preventing you from probing.”
Justice Suman Shyam observed that this (crackdown) is causing havoc in the private life of people. There are children, family members, and old people. Obviously, (child marriage) is a bad idea. We will give our views, but at the moment, the issue is whether they should be all arrested and put in jail,”
Assam Chief Minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma cited Assam’s infant and maternal mortality rates as well as the alarming teenage pregnancies to justify the crackdown against child marriage.
“The drive against this social evil will continue. We seek the support of the people of Assam in our fight against this social crime,” CM said.
So far, a total of 3,031 people have been apprehended against the registration of 4,225 child marriage cases. It should be mentioned that according to the 2011 census, 44 per cent of women in Assam were married before the age of 18, and most of them are illegal migrant Muslims.
Will I allow my daughter to get married at the age of 12-13? A generation will have to suffer this pain to save lakhs of girls from the evil of child marriage, CM Dr Sharma argued for the ongoing legal drive against child marriage in Assam.
The trigger behind the Assam cabinet decision was the state’s poor performance in certain health indicators, as revealed by the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) and Sample Registration System (SRS) Statistical Report by the Registrar General of India (RGI). Child marriage has been identified as a prime factor behind this.
The NFHS-5, carried out between 2019 and 2020, showed that 31.8 per cent of women aged between 20 and 24 years in Assam got married before the legal age of 18 years, which is higher than the national figure of 23.3 per cent. What was more alarming was that 11.7 per cent of married women aged between 15 and 19 years were already mothers or pregnant during the period of the survey, compared to the national average of 6.8 per cent.
According to the government of India reports, the teenage pregnancy rate in the illegal migrant Muslim populous district Barpeta is 28.7 per cent, Dhubri 27.9 per cent, Goalpara 24.1 per cent, Goalpara 22.3 per cent, Kokrajhar 21.9 per cent, Darrang 21.1 per cent and Morigaon 20 per cent. Teenage pregnancy is one of the major factors for the high mother and newborn mortality rate in the state.