India’s crackdown on child marriage hurts families

Morigaon, India (AP) — Standing outside the local police station in her village in northeastern India, 19-year-old Nureja Hatun feels uneasy. She held her six-month-old baby in her arms and waited for a glimpse of her husband before police took him to court.

Almost an hour later, she saw her husband Akbar Ali for just a few seconds when he was forced into a police car. Before she can get her answer, the cop slams the door in her face.

“Please release my husband, or detain me too,” she pleaded.

Hatun’s husband is one of more than 3,000 men, including Hindu and Muslim priests, who were arrested nearly two weeks ago amid widespread rioting in the northeastern state of Assam. crackdown on illegal child marriage Including girls under the age of 18.

This action left her, and hundreds of other women like her who married before the age of 18, in anguish. Growing up, many women said their families were torn apart, leaving them feeling angry and helpless.

Khatun was left in the care of Ali, who eloped when he was 17 in 2021. As a laborer she earns 400 rupees ($5) a day Ali is the sole breadwinner in her family and her couple had a baby girl six months ago.

“We have no one to feed us now. I don’t know if my family will survive,” Khatun said.

Strict measures are in place in the state, home to 35 million people, where many cases of child marriage go unreported. According to the National Crime Records Service, only 155 child marriages were registered in Assam in 2021 and 138 in 2020.

In India, the legal age of marriage is 21 for men and 18 for women. Poverty, lack of education, and social norms and practices are considered reasons for child marriage across the country, especially in rural areas.

UNICEF estimates that at least 1.5 million girls under the age of 18 get married in India each year, making India the country with the highest number of child brides in the world. This accounts for her one-third of the world total. According to data from India’s National Health and Family Survey, more than 31% of her marriages registered in Assam involve the forbidden age group.

Last month, the state government passed a resolution to end child marriage completely by 2026.

In some districts, the teenage pregnancy rate has reached 26 percent, said Assam Police Deputy Commissioner AVY Krishna. “These child marriages have become a social scourge, resulting in a very high mortality rate,” he said.

The arrests have caused great distress among families, with women sobbing outside police stations across the state, while punitive actions have also come under scrutiny from lawyers and activists.

Some men accused of marrying girls between the ages of 14 and 18 will be prosecuted under the Indian law against child marriage and sentenced to two years in prison. Another man accused of marrying a girl under the age of 14 was prosecuted under a stricter law protecting children from sex crimes, which is not subject to bail, and sentenced him to seven years in prison. range from to lifelong.

The Assamese Police defended their actions as lawful under both of these laws, but the High Court in the state capital Guwahati questioned the arrests. I don’t think so,” he said Tuesday.

Others said the government should raise awareness through education and social campaigns rather than arrests. Bora said. “Suddenly they decided to start mass arrests to tackle the problem. Instead, they should focus on social reform to stop it.”

Activists and political opponents in the state say the Hindu State, the party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in power in Assam, has been making arrests in districts and areas where many Bengali-speaking Muslims live. denounces the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Critics say communities that have migrated from neighboring Bangladesh over the years are often left behind by authorities, including the state’s controversial citizenship registration, which they say discriminates against Muslims. It is said that it has been

Lawyer and social activist Hasina Ahmed said, “We found people of all religions involved in child marriage.” No, we must focus on the investigation and resolve the matter legally.”

Authorities deny the accusations and say hundreds of Hindu men have also been arrested.

Ahmed said the arrests have done more harm than good to the Assamese community. Her affected wives were mostly uneducated, she was unemployed and came from a poor family where her husband was the only breadwinner.

“The government could have punished those who engage in the practice from today. It is not appropriate to punish people now for old child marriages,” she said.

Radha Rani Mondal, 50, is determined to get his son out of prison but says he doesn’t have the money or the know-how to navigate the legal system. Her 20-year-old son was arrested on her February 4th and her 17-year-old daughter-in-law is pregnant. She used her last 500 rupees ($6) to hire a lawyer.

“I go to the police station and lawyers every day on an empty stomach. It’s very difficult.It can’t be helped.”