Marriage is a social institution in India and Assam is no exception
The Assam government has been on a mission in cracking down on child marriages. Following a decision of the state cabinet, the police are now booking men who married girls aged below 14, under the stringent Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and those who married girls aged between 14 and 18 under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.
In the police action that started last week, more than 4,000 cases have been booked and more than 2,500 persons arrested. Protests have been reported against the move under which parents and even priests who facilitated the marriages are being put behind the bars.
The state government may have one too many reasons to act tough, the most important being the unacceptably high maternal mortality and infant mortality rates. The state’s maternal mortality rate is the highest in India-195 deaths for one lakh live births against the national average of 97. At 38 deaths for 1,000 live births, the infant mortality rate is the third highest among Indian states and far too high compared with the national average of 28.
The National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) 2019-21 had found that 11.7 per cent of the women between 15-19 years of age in Assam were already mothers or pregnant at the time of the survey.
Marriage is a social institution in India and Assam is no exception. The age for marriage has been raised slowly but steadily as societies made advances in their scientific and social tempers; that did not happen overnight.
The purpose of the government may be laudable but the means by which it wants to reach there undoubtedly smacks of administrative excess. A social evil is not fought by the law alone; it takes very painstaking efforts to make society understand the need for ending it.
The Assam government would rather launch a massive social awareness programme, instead. The legal measures may follow. It cannot be the other way around.