Considering stringent legislation against child marriages: Sarma
The Gauhati high court last month said the state’s use of power in its campaign against child marriages can play “havoc with personal lives” of people
Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has said his government was considering stringent legislation against child marriages with a provision for imprisonment for up to 10 years while denying allegations that a campaign against them was aimed at targeting Muslims.
He insisted the campaign was needed to bring down infant and maternal mortality rates. “Child marriages must stop. That is the minimum we can do for our daughters,” said Sarma on Wednesday while speaking on the motion of thanks to the governor’s address ahead of the assembly’s budget session.
The Gauhati high court last month questioned the applicability of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Pocso) Act to the cases lodged as part of the crackdown on child marriages and said the state’s use of power can play “havoc with personal lives” of people. It said Pocso cases were registered without any complaint of rape or sexual assault.
Sarma defended the crackdown, which was launched on February 3 following a Cabinet decision and triggered protests. He maintained it was not aimed at targeting a particular religious group and said that there was a 55:45 Muslim and Hindu ratio in cases where action has been taken.
“Though the situation on the ground is different, I asked the police to pick up more of our people [Hindus]. Otherwise, you [the Opposition] would have communalised the issue. Data from National Family Health Survey-5 says that the issue is most widespread in [Muslim-majority] Dhubri and South Salmara and not in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia,” he said.
Sarma claimed the high court has not passed any negative comments on the drive against child marriage.
“Even now nearly 1000 of those arrested have not got bail despite the state government saying that we have no issues if they are released. We wanted to give a message through our campaign [against child marriages]...we have been able to do so.”
Sarma earlier informed the assembly that 4670 instances of child marriages were reported in the state between April 2021 and February this year. He added 3483 people have been arrested as part of the campaign. They included 3098 in the first two months of 2023.
Sarma said the campaign against child marriages would continue till the practice is eradicated.