As the total number of arrests in the continued drive against child marriage in Assam reached 2,528 on Tuesday amid protests by affected women outside transit camps, the DGP said the biggest challenge for the force now is filing charge sheets within the stipulated timeframe.
The police during the day arrested 87 more people in the crackdown, which started on Friday.
“Crackdown continues. Total arrest so far – 2528,” Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in a tweet.
Protests against the arrests by women activists were reported during the day from Matia in Goalpara district and Silchar in Cachar district.
They protested before a transit camp in Matia and a stadium in Silchar, which were converted to temporary jails to accommodate those arrested in child marriage cases. Four of the protestors were arrested in Silchar and released on personal bond, police said.
The Director General of Police (DGP) G P Singh said that the biggest challenge for the police is now to file charge sheets within a 60 to 90 days period.
Singh said that the police did not aim to harass anybody but its role was to stop child marriage completely in the state by the next two to three years.
“We have registered 4,074 cases and over 2,500 people have been arrested till this morning. All the accused in these cases have been identified and they will be arrested and charge sheets filed against them,” Singh told PTI.
On the 65 accused people already securing bail, the DGP said the focus is on ensuring that charge sheets are filed within the stipulated time frame.
“Bail is okay. To me, it is not important who stays in jail for how long. It is important that they have to be charge-sheeted and they face the music of law,” he asserted.
Chairperson of Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR) Sunita Changkakoti told PTI that the crackdown was a much-awaited move and it will send a strong message to the society against this menace.
“We have been campaigning against child marriage for long and hold regular district review meetings in which we involve all stakeholders, including government departments like the health and education and NGOs. A concerted effort by all sections of society can help in ending the problem,” she said.
The Assam police had launched the crackdown on child marriage on Friday with over 2,000 people, including Hindu and Muslim priests who officiated these weddings, arrested within the first two days.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had earlier asserted that the drive will continue till the 2026 Assembly election.
Justifying the crackdown, Sarma had pointed out that teenage pregnancy accounted for nearly 17 per cent of over 6.2 lakh pregnant women last year in the state.
The opposition parties have criticised the manner in which it is being carried out, terming the arrests of teenage husbands and family members as “abuse of law” for political gain and equating the police action with “terrorising people”.
State Congress president Bhupen Bora had said a humane approach was needed in dealing with the issue.
The AIUDF had claimed that the state government was cracking down on child marriage under provisions of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) “without framing the requisite rules”.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi had said that the Assam government should have concentrated on increasing literacy levels if it was actually seized of the problem of child marriage.
The state cabinet had recently approved a proposal to book men who have married girls below 14 years of age under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO).
Cases under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006 will be registered against those who have married girls in the age group of 14-18 years, the cabinet had decided.
The offenders will be arrested and the marriages declared illegal.
Assam has a high rate of maternal and infant mortality, with child marriage being the primary cause as an average of 31 per cent of marriages registered in the state are in the prohibited age, according to reports of the National Family Health Survey.
Of the 4,004 cases of child marriage registered recently, the highest was reported in Dhubri (370), followed by Hojai (255), Udalguri (235), Morigaon (224) and Kokrajhar (204).