GUWAHATI The Assam Cabinet has decided to book men who marry minor girls under stringent laws prescribing imprisonment from two years to life, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Monday.
Citing the National Family Health Survey-5 report, he said an average of 31.8% of girls in Assam get married at the “prohibited age” and 11.7% of them become mothers before adulthood compared to the national average of 23.3% and 6.8%, respectively.
The legal age for marriage is 18 years for women and 21 for men.
“Health experts attribute the high rate of maternal and infant mortality in Assam primarily to child marriage, which has warranted the decision to punish men who marry minors,” he told mediapersons after a Cabinet meeting.
Dhubri in Western Assam tops the list of districts with 50% of girls getting married and 22% of them becoming mothers before they turn 18, the Chief Minister said. According to the 2011 Census, Dhubri has a Muslim population of 79.67%.
Mr. Sarma said the “alarming situation” prompted the Cabinet to decide to book men who marry girls below 14 years of age under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, entailing life punishment.
“Men marrying girls between the age of 14 and 18 will be booked under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 with a minimum sentence period of two years,” he said.
The Chief Minister said the police have been asked to launch a crackdown against child marriage across the State, concentrating on cases in the past year.
He also said a child protection officer will be appointed in every village and the gram panchayat secretary would be tasked with lodging complaints if any child marriage was taking place in his or her area of operation.
Necessary action would be taken against the gram panchayat secretary if any child marriage case is not reported, he added.