The Assam Government approved the crackdown on child marriage in January 2023 relying upon National Health Survey-5 conducted in 2019-2020. Consequently Chief Minister Himantha Biswa Sarma directed the Assam police to register cases under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 and Protection of Children from Sexual offences Act 2012 against husband, in-laws, farther, relatives or Qazis, Priest if they are involved in child marriages.
The Fact-finding report recorded testimonies of affected families in the district of Guwahati, Dhubri, Barpeta, Majuli of Assam and drew key findings highlighting the grave human rights violation.
Barkat Ali Khan APCR Telangana State President notified that the Assam Police have registered 4004 FIRs and arrested 3052 people including women and sent them to a transit jail 200 Km away from the place of arrest.
“The report suggests that the modus operandi of arrests is a clear violation of supreme court guidelines laid down in DK Basu v. State of West of Bengal(1977). The police forcefully enters the house and arrest husbands, in-laws, relatives of minor girls who were married when she did not attain the legal age of marriage,” Khan informed,
Allegedly the government prepared a list of names involved in child marriage with the assistance of ASHA workers and Head of Panchayat Secretary or Village Secretary.
The ASHA workers leaked the data of pregnant women which has resulted in the arrest of their husbands and relatives leaving them helpless.
The pregnant women are reluctant to avail the medical facilities through them as they have caused enough trouble and harassment to the families.
The report further highlighted the lack of civil society organizations in Assam and disintegration of political groups diverted in different ideologies. Lack of legal aid and poor legal infrastructure prevent the marginalized vulnerable group from stepping up the ladder of justice.
Key notes by presented by:
Safoora Zargar Activist, She moderated the meeting while summarising the chronology of events that took place in Assam and the objective of the preliminary report released by Association for Protection of Civil Rights.
Tamanna Pankaj Advocate shared her experience of fact-finding where the affected families recorded their statements. According to her, child marriages in Assam are not forceful in all cases, rather in a lot of cases the marriages have taken place according to the girls’ own free will.
She further stated that the police pattern of arrest is in contravention of Supreme Court guidelines in the DK Basu v state of West Bengal case on the arrest.
“The pattern includes the arrest of Qazis, Priests and husbands, in-laws and relatives of minor girls. the chief minister’s purpose of tackling child marriage has been defeated by this crackdown resulting in fear in the minds of vulnerable minority communities,” she said drawing attention towards minorities state in Assam.
Mobashshir Aneeq Advocate also highlighted the need for robust civil society groups in Assam and also the role of the judiciary in recent cases.
“For instance, initially, the court granted bail in such arrests within 24 hours however now the courts are reluctant in granting bail. the Assam police arrested people late at night and refused to provide any FIR copies to the accused,” said, Mobashshir Aneeq.
Madhu Mehra Advocate expressed her concerns over the recent crackdown and associated the relationship between poverty and child marriage.
She further explained the jurisprudence of POCSO and how the stringent law is made applicable in these child marriages.
“The need to read laws on POCSO is necessary before applying them in the present cases,”
She stated that the government first focused on education and large-scale women empowerment to tackle the problem as Assam has a high level of girls dropout which made the situation worse for poor families therefore child marriages are rampant.
Mary E John, Former director formerly Professor and Director at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies said that the law and order issue in Assam coupled with a lack of data in the mainstream on child marriage, particularly concerning Assam.
She further stated that Muslims constitute the poorest sections in Assam and consequently child marriages are common in them.
“The government should focus on providing opportunities to the girl child on an urgent basis to tackle the problem. A woman who is bleeding during pregnancy must not go through all these,”
Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) conducted the fact finding visit in four districts of Assam through the team comprising of Advocate Tamanna Pankaj and Advocate Mobashshir Aneeq, Advocate Junaid Khalid, and Advocate Masood to ascertain the groud realities of Assam crackdown on child marriage in order to assist those affected by the drive.