Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told NDTV today the state government will not stop arresting people linked to child marriage. Assam’s BJP government has launched an anti-child marriage crackdown and arrested hundreds of men across the state, leading to protests by their families for their release.
“The idea is not to keep them in jail. The idea is to show a demonstrative action that society is against child marriage. We have started a crackdown on child marriage and will continue it,” Mr Sarma told NDTV while campaigning for the assembly election in Tripura.
On concerns over sole breadwinners of families being arrested, Mr Sarma said, “If in a case of murder, if the only breadwinner becomes an accused, will the police not arrest him? In our law, the word ‘sympathy’ can’t be exercised by the police. ‘Sympathy’ can be exercised only by a court of law.”
“The crackdown will go on till we achieve the objective of the demonstrative action. We have identified 4,000 cases and 8,000 accused, out of which some 4,000 are elderly citizens. We have let them go. But we will arrest at least 3,000-4,000 accused, and I think that will fulfil the objective of this demonstrative action,” the Assam Chief Minister told NDTV.
Mr Sarma yesterday said the teenage pregnancy ratio in the state is alarming at 16.8 per cent. Assam has registered 6,20,867 pregnant women out of which 1,04,264 are below the age of 19. Dhubri and South Salamara have the highest number of registered cases, which stands at 51,831 and 14,438, respectively, who are below the age of 19.
Barpeta district has the highest percentage of teenage pregnancy at 28 per cent and the number pf pregnant women registered is 40,581.
“Once demonstrative action is over, we will start working on pre-emptive action. We have already appointed child marriage prohibition officers. They will give us information. The moment we come to know about child marriage, our police will take immediate action along with other rehabilitation programmes,” Mr Sarma told NDTV.
Families have reacted in protest against the crackdown. A woman came to a police station and threatened to die by suicide unless her husband and father, who were arrested on Friday last, were released. In Dhubri district’s Tamarhat, hundreds of women surrounded a police station and blocked the highway in protest against the arrest of a man on charges of child marriage on Saturday last.
“There is no question of sending notice (to the accused). We have examined the legal provisions. Police have acted according to the law. They have not violated any provision of the law against child marriage,” Mr Sarma said. “When there is an allegation of POCSO Act violation, no notice is required. You can straight away arrest the accused,” the Chief Minister said, referring to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.