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Assam Child Marriage: Sons put in jail, but no solution to a girl child’s life ahead

India has the highest number of child brides globally, although the incidence has been decreasing in recent years.

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Thousands of people have been arrested as part of the Assam government’s campaign against child marriage. Now that the police have sent the sons of hundreds of families to jail, people are worried about how their households will run. Moreover, the young brides are not given any respite or solution for spending their lives ahead. They are still in the same house with their in-laws, and their husbands are arrested. This put social pressure on those young girls and their families. Over the next week, thousands of men in Assam who married underage girls will be arrested. While doing this, the government has no plans or proposals to secure those girls’ lives who are minors.

India has the highest number of child brides globally, although the incidence has been decreasing in recent years. The state government is also handling the child marriage issue with iron, but that is only ahead of elections or for some publicity gimmick. Fewer girls are marrying before the age of 15 (from 23.5% to 18.2%), but rates of marriage have increased for girls between ages 15-18 (26.7% to 29.2%). The most horrific truth about child marriage is forced sexual intercourse and then pregnancy, which results in the death of millions of girls around the world. This heartbreaking incident is not only prevalent in Assam but around India too.

There is a patriarchal belief that the husband should exercise total dominion over his wife, which is easier if she is a child and he is 30 or 40 years older. A non-scientific belief about virginity is another reason, and the biggest reason is poverty. Small girls can be moulded as per the protocol of the family they are going into, and in her father’s house, she was the biggest liability. Economic troubles and poverty encourage fathers to sell their daughters into marriage in cultures where girls are considered to have no other value. A girl child is seen as a liability in rural India, and her parents want to wash their hands of this responsibility at the earliest possible date.

Secondly, there is no proper implementation of anti-child marriage laws. People who have seen such a violation neither complain nor cooperate with the police in the enforcement of these laws. Look at Assam. If thousands of men are getting arrested for getting married to minor girls, what was the administration doing when these events were happening? This is the darkest side of the ruling government and administration. One of the darkest aspects of Indian society is sexual repression, with its deeply disturbing effects.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has awoken from his slumber and announced that thousands of people involved in child marriage will be arrested. Thousands of young men and women who married girls under the age of 18 will be arrested over the next six to seven days. Action will also be taken against those who engaged in child marriage earlier. Nagaon had recorded a high percentage of child marriages (42 per cent) and women giving birth before reaching the age of 18 (15 per cent). Himanta Biswa Sarma’s announcement was part of the government’s campaign against child marriage, which he cited as the reason behind child pregnancy, which in turn was responsible for high maternal and infant mortality rates in Assam.

The legal age of marriage in India is 18 for women and 21 for men. But, despite the law, child marriage remains widespread in parts of the country, with some states recording a higher percentage of girls being married at a young age. As per the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5), 2019–21, in Assam, around 11.7 per cent of women between 15 and 19 years of age were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey. Several Assam districts had a high percentage of women aged 20 to 24 who were married before 18. The data further showed that a high percentage of married girls gave birth before they reached the legal age of 18.

This is a political campaign that will last until the 2026 Assembly elections. This leaves no doubt that the police campaign to arrest people for allegedly marrying girls below 18 and booking them under the provisions of the POCSO Act and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act has an electoral purpose. The motive is two-pronged. The first point that Sarma is trying to convey is that he is unsparing when it comes to practises that are identified with Muslims—in this case, child marriage. He has already raked up allegations of “love jihad” and “inducement” for religious conversion, and the latest move is to further stigmatise the community.

The second purpose this campaign serves emanates from the furore this would cause. The uproar caused by this police operation has already resulted in thousands of arrests, primarily in Muslim and tribal majority districts. Anger among the general public over non-delivery has the capacity to trigger anti-incumbent sentiment and can thereby have a negative impact on the electoral fortunes of the BJP, first in 2024 during the Lok Sabha elections and later in 2026 during the Assembly polls.

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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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