In the northeastern state of Assam, child marriages have been on the rise, according to data provided by the state's Social Welfare Department.
Ajanta Neog, the state's Social Welfare Minister, told the Assembly on August 10 that 3,192 child marriages were recorded from 2016-17 financial year to the 2020-21 financial year. Data furnished by Neog said 74 child marriages were performed in 2016-17, followed by 448 in 2017-18, and 759 in 2018-19.
During 2019-20, the child marriage figure jumped to 1,089, the financial year when Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who then the Finance Minister, announced a gift of a 'tola' (11.34 grams) of gold for brides. The government had then said the golden gift was aimed at marital reforms and checking "underage marriage".
"We have appointed child marriage prohibition officers under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 to check child marriages. Village children protection committees are also being set up," Neog said.
A 2019 report by UNICEF estimated that 33 per cent of women in Assam got married before 18 years of age. The figure is the highest in the northeast and higher than the Indian average. Just last month, the Border Security Force's Anti Human Trafficking Unit rescued a 15-year-old girl from a forced marriage in the Karimganj district of Assam, officials said.
What Does The Law State?
The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act states that a girl can't marry before she turns 18 and a boy before 21. However, the reality is far from different. Often things like poverty and dowry, force families to marry their daughters young.
The pandemic has just worsened the situation. The United Nations Children's Fund estimated that an additional 10 million girls globally will be at risk of child marriages over the next decade due to COVID-19. Child marriage affects girls more disproportionately than men. It puts them at the risk of being denied education, which therefore leads to intergenerational poverty, among other things.