Guwahati, Jan 23: Amidst startling data compiled under National Family Health Survey-5, the Assam government has directed the police force to launch a state-wide crackdown against child marriage within the next 15 days.
According to the NFHS-5 data, 31.8 percent women in Assam in the age group of 20-24 years have married before age 18 years compared to 23.3 percent women in India.
Moreover, 11.7 percent women in Assam in the age group of 15-19 years were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey (NFHS-5) compared to 6.8 percent women in India.
Addressing media persons after a Cabinet meeting here on Monday, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma informed that the state government has, in the wake of the disturbing trends, directed the state police to launch a massive crackdown against child marriage within 15 days.
“Thereafter, police will take continuous action across the state, including those who encourage/instigate child marriages. Such action will be taken across districts (both in Lower and Upper Assam) and not targeted against any particular district or community. Cases will be lodged under the POCSO (The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) Act, 2012 and Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006,” Sarma said.
NFHS-5 was conducted in the year 2019-20.
According to the survey, western Assam’s Dhubri district registered 22 percent of women/girls that gave birth in the prohibited age. Likewise, in South Salmara, 22 percent of women became mothers at an early age; 16 percent in Darrang; 15 percent in Kamrup; 15.6 percent in Hojai; 15.4 percent in Bongaigaon; 15 percent in Nagaon and 14 percent in Barpeta district.
“The worrying trend is that in Dhubri, around 50.8 per cent of the marriages have taken place in the prohibited age category. Besides 44 percent child marriages have been registered in South Salmara; 42 percent in Darrang and Nagaon respectively; 41 percent in Goalpara and Bongaigaon respectively; 40 percent in Barpeta; 39 percent in Morigaon and 15 percent in Dima Hasao district,” he said.
On the other hand, Jorhat and Sivasagar districts in Upper Assam too have recorded 24 percent child marriages respectively.
Informing that the state has reported about one lakh child marriages so far, the chief minister said that “child marriage prohibition officers will have to be appointed under Section 16 of Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 and that gaon panchayat secretaries would have to mandatorily lodge FIRs in police stations if they come across any instance of child marriage.”
“The issue (appointment of child marriage prohibition officers under the said Act) has since 2006 (when the Act came into effect) been neglected/overlooked. However, this will be a priority in our governance so that we can do away with this menace within five years,” Sarma said, while adding that the deputy commissioners and superintendents of police have been sensitized on the matter through video conference.
The chief minister further revealed that the Assam government had taken inspiration from Karnataka, the only state in the country which has appointed child marriage prohibition officers. “Karnataka has prevented about 11,000 child marriages and booked about 10,000 couples,” he added.
According to official estimates, one fourth (25 percent) of the maternal deaths are of age less than or equal to 20 years.
“Child marriages are a prime factor of the death of infants and mothers. The state Cabinet has therefore decided that cases would be registered under POCSO Act against persons (adult) marrying girls under 14 years of age,” the chief minister said.
“Further, a two-year sentence (under Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006) would be given in regard to a child marriage which takes place between couples aged between 14 years and 18 years punishment and such a marriage would be considered illegal,” he said.