Over 1,800 detained in India crackdown on child marriages

MUMBAI, 4 Feb 2023:

Authorities in India’s northeastern state of Assam yesterday arrested more than 1,800 people – allegedly involved in cases of underage marriage – as part of a police operation that aims to end this illegal practice commonly found in the region.

“State wide arrests are presently underway against those violating provisions of Prohibition of Child Marriage Act. 1800 + have been arrested so far,” Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tweeted.

The operation began a day after Sarma said the police had recently registered 4,004 cases of child marriage across the state and met high officials of the law enforcement agencies to coordinate the campaign.

Nearly one-third of the women aged between 20 and 24 in Assam were married before they became adults, with the practice especially prevalent in the rural areas, according to the National Family Health Survey 2019-2021.

Only four Indians states have higher rates of child marriage, and Assam’s figures are much higher than the national average of 23.3%.

The Assam government proposed to put an end to the tradition in January by hardening laws against men who married minor girls, aiming to reduce high infant mortality and maternal mortality rates.

According to authorities, child marriage is a major reason behind Assam’s infant mortality rate (IFR) of 36 per 1,000 births and maternal mortality (MMR) of 195 per 10,000 births, as per data covering births between 2018-2020.

Both the rates are far above the national average IFR of 28 and MMR of 97.

Despite efforts by Indian authorities to reduce infant mortality in recent years – with the number of girls being married below the age of 18 dropping from 47% in 2005-2006 to 23.3% in 2019-2021 – the progress in this area has not been sufficient, according to Unicef.

In a 2019 report, the UN agency said that India was home to 223 million girls who were married off as minors, accounting for one-third of child marriages worldwide.