Assam BJP to improve performance in 2024 LS polls: Himanta
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma

Guwahati: The Assam government has decided to launch a statewide drive against the practice of child marriage amidst disturbing information compiled on the ‘menace’ under National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5).

The state cabinet on Monday took a decision in this regard following which the Assam police have been directed to launch a massive crackdown against the practice within the next 15 days.

According to the NFHS-5 data, 31.8 per cent of women in Assam in the age group of 20-24 years have married before the age of 18 years compared to 23.3 per cent women in India.

Moreover, 11.7 per cent of 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 per cent of women in India.

Informing media persons after the Cabinet meeting at Janata Bhawan here on Monday, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the state government has directed the state police to launch a massive crackdown against child marriage within the next fortnight.

“Continuous action will be taken by the police across the state. Such action will be taken across districts in both Upper and Lower Assam and not be 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.

Assam has reported about one lakh child marriages so far.

According to official data, one-fourth (25 per cent) of maternal deaths are of age less than or equal to 20 years.

“Child marriages are the prime cause of deaths 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 and such a marriage would be considered illegal,” he said.

The chief minister informed that child marriage prohibition officers would be appointed under Section 16 of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006.

“Every gaon panchayat secretary will have to compulsorily lodge FIRs in police stations if they come across any instance of child marriage,” CM said.

“The issue of appointment of child marriage prohibition officers has been overlooked since the Act came into force back in 2006. However, now, 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.

NFHS-5 was conducted in the year 2019-20.

According to the survey, western Assam’s Dhubri district registered 22 per cent of women/girls that gave birth at the prohibited age. Likewise, in South Salmara, 22 per cent of women became mothers at an early age; 16 per cent in Darrang; 15 per cent in Kamrup; 15.6 per cent in Hojai; 15.4 per cent in Bongaigaon; 15 per cent in Nagaon and 14 per cent 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 per cent of child marriages have been registered in South Salmara; 42 per cent in Darrang and Nagaon respectively; 41 per cent in Goalpara and Bongaigaon respectively; 40 per cent in Barpeta; 39 per cent in Morigaon and 15 per cent in Dima Hasao district,” he said.

On the other hand, Jorhat and Sivasagar districts in Upper Assam too have recorded 24 per cent child marriages respectively.

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 as many as 10,000 couples,” he added.

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