Indian child marriage crackdown leaves families in anguish

MORIGAON, India (AP) — Standing exterior the native police station in her village in northeast India, 19-year-old Nureja Khatun is anxious. Cradling her 6-month-old child in her arms, she has been ready to catch a glimpse of her husband earlier than the police take him away to courtroom.

Almost an hour later, she sees her husband, Akbar Ali, for only a few seconds when he’s shuffled right into a police van. An officer slams the door in her face earlier than she is ready to get any solutions.

“Please launch my husband. In any other case take me into custody as effectively,” she pleaded.

Khatun’s husband is one in every of greater than 3,000 males, together with Hindu and Muslim monks, who have been arrested practically two weeks in the past within the northeastern state of Assam below a large crackdown on unlawful youngster marriages involving women below the age of 18.

The motion has left her — and tons of of different ladies like her who acquired married below 18 — in anguish. Most of the ladies, who are actually adults, say their households have been torn aside, leaving them offended and helpless.

Khatun relied on Ali, with whom she eloped in 2021 when she was 17, to care for her. Incomes 400 rupees ($5) a day as a laborer, Ali was the only real breadwinner of their household, and the couple had a child woman six months in the past.

“Now there isn’t any one to feed us. I don’t know if my household can survive,” Khatun mentioned.

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The stringent measures are being carried out in a state, residence to 35 million folks, the place many instances of kid marriage go unreported. Solely 155 instances of kid marriages in Assam have been registered in 2021, and 138 in 2020, in keeping with the Nationwide Crime Data Bureau.

In India, the authorized marriageable age is 21 for males and 18 for girls. Poverty, lack of training, and social norms and practices, notably in rural areas, are thought-about causes for youngster marriages throughout the nation.

UNICEF estimates that not less than 1.5 million women below 18 get married in India yearly, making it residence to the biggest variety of youngster brides on the planet — accounting for a 3rd of the worldwide whole. India’s Nationwide Well being Household Survey knowledge exhibits that greater than 31% of marriages registered in Assam contain the prohibited age group.

The state authorities handed a decision final month to utterly eradicate the observe of kid marriage by 2026.

In some districts, teenage pregnancies are as excessive as 26%, mentioned Assam’s further director common of police AVY Krishna. “These youngster marriages have change into a social evil and because of this the mortality charges have been fairly excessive,” he mentioned.

Whereas the arrests have sparked large misery amongst households, with ladies sobbing exterior police stations throughout the state, the punitive motion has additionally drawn scrutiny from attorneys and activists.

Some males, accused of marrying women aged between 14 and 18, are being charged below India’s regulation banning youngster marriage, which carries a jail time period of two years. Different males, accused of marrying women under 14 years, have been charged below a extra stringent regulation that protects youngsters from sexual offenses. That is non-bailable, with jail phrases starting from seven years to life.

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Assam police defended their actions as authorized below each of those legal guidelines, however the Excessive Courtroom within the state’s capital, Guwahati, has questioned the arrests. “For the time being, the courtroom thinks that these will not be issues for custodial interrogation,” it mentioned on Tuesday.

Others mentioned the federal government ought to increase consciousness by way of training and social campaigns as a substitute of arrests. “In line with Supreme Courtroom pointers, arrests must be the final resort,” mentioned senior advocate Anshuman Bora. “Out of the blue, they determine to start out making mass arrests to deal with the issue. As an alternative, they need to give attention to social reforms to cease it.”

Activists and political opponents within the state have accused the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s social gathering — in energy in Assam of finishing up arrests in districts and areas residence to most of the state’s Bengali-speaking Muslims.

Critics say the neighborhood, which migrated through the years from neighboring Bangladesh, has typically been marginalized by authorities, together with a contentious citizenship registry within the state that they are saying discriminated in opposition to Muslims.

“We’ve discovered that individuals of all religions have been concerned in youngster marriages,” mentioned lawyer and social activist Hasina Ahmed. “We should not choose communities like this. We should not see caste and faith. We should give attention to the investigations and proceed legally to resolve the problems.”

Officers have denied the accusations and say tons of of Hindu males have additionally been arrested.

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Ahmed mentioned the arrests have been doing extra hurt than good in Assam’s communities. A majority of the affected wives have been uneducated, unemployed and got here from poor households the place their husbands have been the only real earners.

“The federal government may have penalized folks for participating within the observe ranging from in the present day. Punishing folks now for outdated youngster marriages is just not acceptable,” she mentioned.

Radha Rani Mondal, 50, is set to get her son out of jail, however says she doesn’t have the cash or the know-how to navigate the authorized system. Her 20-year-old son was arrested on Feb. 4 and her 17-year-old daughter-in-law is pregnant. She spent her final 500 rupees ($6) to rent a lawyer, whom she owes 20,000 rupees ($250) extra.

“I’ve been going to the police station and to the lawyer on daily basis on an empty abdomen. On one hand, I’ve to rearrange cash for authorized bills and on the opposite, I’ve to run my residence and care for my daughter-in-law. It is vitally tough. I really feel helpless,” she mentioned, crying.