Crackdown on child marriage tears families apart in India’s Assam

More than 3,000 people were arrested this month, with the state’s BJP government accused of targeting Muslims in the ongoing drive.

Shahjimina Khatoon, who claims she was 18 when she married 18 months ago, said the police arrested her father-in-law. With a toddler in hand, Khatoon is clueless as to when he will return home. Her husband works as a daily wage earner in Karnataka.
Khatoon alleges her father-in-law was arrested because they are Muslim. “I think the arrests related to child marriage are to harass Muslim people.”

The police in Assam retrospectively booked people who allegedly participated in child marriage in the past seven years. However, according to Section 468 of the Criminal Procedure Code, if the punishment under the law is between 1-3 years, then a court of law cannot consider cases older than three years. Under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006, the maximum punishment is two years. However, if the government is invoking POCSO, there is no such limitation as the minimum punishment under the law is 10 years. Moreover, they say the name of the law itself suggests the state should have banned child marriages. In Assam, the state acted after the marriages had taken place and in many cases, after many years. “The politics played with the lives of Bengali-speaking Muslims, who are mostly poor, every now and then should end. As the BJP is in power in Assam since 2016, they should take necessary action to stop the entry of ‘illegal’ migrants instead of crying foul over the issue,” Hasina Ahmed, secretary of the All Assam Minorities Students’ Union (AAMSU), told to The Hindustan Gazette.
Hasina Ahmed stated in her interview with The Hindustan Gazette the government should raise awareness through education and social campaigns instead of arrests. The police should take the proper action and plan before arresting the people and registering cases in a legal way. In one case of 2023, she said there was no proper investigation done and no documentation was provided by the police despite asking and registering the case of a girl who was below 20 years and showing that she has done child marriage. The state government passed a resolution last month to completely eradicate the practice of child marriage by 2026. To eradicate child marriage government must take proper and legal measures from 2023 itself, said by lawyer and social activist Hasina Ahmed. Activists and political opponents in the state have accused the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party — in power in Assam of carrying out arrests in districts and areas home to many of the state’s Bengali-speaking Muslims.“We have found that people of all religions have been involved in child marriages,” said lawyer and social activist Hasina Ahmed. “We must not judge communities like this. We must not see caste and religion. We must focus on the investigations and proceed legally to solve the issues.”

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