February 6, 2023

Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Assam government’s crackdown on child marriage is progressive or arbitrary. We also look at the creation of the proposed Telangana Martyrs’ Memorial, among other news.


Assam’s crackdown on child marriage: Progressive or arbitrary?

Assam has one of the highest recorded cases of child marriage in India. Recently, the Himanta Biswa Sarma-led state government launched a massive crackdown on child marriages to continue until the 2026 Assembly polls. But soon as the state began its slew of arrests, police stations were flocked by women and family members protesting, sometimes breaking down, over the arrests.

For an initiative that aims to protect women’s interests, the crackdown is being censured for its gender insensitivity. Assam’s DGP, however, believes that the crackdown befits the magnitude of the crime. Given this, do we understand the crackdown as a progressive or an arbitrary measure?


The Prohibition of Child Marriage in India Act of 2006 rules it illegal for girls below 18 years of age and boys before the age of 21 to be married. Child marriage practices primarily seek to marry off young girls to older men in India. Thus, the issue is largely understood as a product of patriarchal culture and hierarchical gender norms.

India has a massive child-marriage problem. It harbours the highest number of child brides world-over and a third of the global total. At least 1.5 million girls under 18 years of age get married in India each year.

Usually, these marriages are forcible and in non-consensual setups. But occasionally, women enter into such arrangements to elope with a partner. The glaring and insidious cultural subjugation of women complicates their lives at home with strife. Without much education and vocational training, many women have little choice but to seek a better life with a partner.

In Assam, 31.8% of women in the prohibitive age are child brides, against the national figure of 23.3%. The state is on the top end of the states with the highest child marriage prevalence rates, following West Bengal, Bihar, Tripura, and Jharkhand.

Community-wise aggregated data suggests that child marriage is prevalent the most among Hindus, with Muslims coming in on a close second. Within the Hindu community, its prevalence is highest among Scheduled Castes and Tribes, with OBCs and General castes trailing closely behind.

In response, Assam’s government began cracking down on men who had married girls from the prohibitive ages. It also arrested Hindu and Muslim priests who helped register such marriages. 4,074 FIRs were registered across the state, with over 2,250 people being arrested so far.

But the crackdown has upended the daily lives of several socio-economically poor communities. While acknowledging the initiative’s good intentions, women criticise the government for adding to the troubles of those already married and with kids. Several family members have protested outside the police stations against the arrest of their husbands and sons.

The opposition also has called for a more humane approach. The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has criticised the government’s crackdown for being jejune.

It is too early to determine whether the drive against child marriage will be successful, for that depends on how long the state remains committed to the cause and whether it tackles the root causes of the issue.

For now, the government is implementing a law that has historically suffered state dereliction. Its crackdown approach aims to sell a cautionary tale to Assam’s populace. But does that necessarily spell a promising future for the issue?

VIEW: It will bring down child marriage rates

Carefully planned crackdowns, as opposed to ill-conceived ones, are an effective strategy for law enforcement and deterring crimes. While the opposition may hail it as hasty, it is a corrective measure against the historical cavities in implementing India’s law against child marriages.

In line with the 2006 Act, the government has produced some framing guidelines to arrest the persons involved in perpetuating child marriages with gradations. So, those held for marrying partners above 14 years would be booked under the 2006 Act and be eligible for bail, while those held for marrying partners of or below 14 years of age would be charged under the POCSO Act.

Parents involved in arranging child marriages, too, will be addressed through the issuance of notices. The crackdown, therefore, is not unthinking. It is simply sudden. It employs a stronghanded approach towards tackling collaborators of multiple levels, ranging from immediate families to partners and religious leaders who not only facilitate the registry of such marriages but also contribute to the social sanction of child marriage.

Apart from inducing a deterrence to the practice of child marriage, a crackdown also promises the delivery of justice. Developing faith in the state’s law enforcement agencies is essential to combat India’s underreporting problem.

Lastly, the fact that the arrests were backed by data collected over the past two months and that the state’s social welfare department is employed to mitigate women’s distress during the campaign indicates the government’s foresight.

COUNTERVIEW: It creates a host of preventable issues

The primary argument against crackdowns is that they are illusory measures that, at best, lead to short-term gains in redressing gendered injustice. Think of it this way: if there was a threat that affected the entire structural integrity of your house, would you plaster it with tape or tackle the root of the issue? Crackdowns are often used for political posturing, to appear to do something and gain popular appeal.

Several reputed cultural and scientific institutions like World Bank and UNESCO have pronounced the need to apply a multi-sectoral approach to eradicate child marriage. Budgetary allocations and schemes for educating girls, incentivising their families against maltreatment, and skill development are some proven ways to ensure women’s financial security and dignity while delaying their marriage age.

Police crackdowns do not get anywhere close to the crux of the issue. Rather, as research on dowry crackdowns shows, such an approach is likely to become a hydra-headed monster that Assam’s social welfare department is not equipped to handle.

When women lose their primary financial caregivers, they are unduly penalised for a societal evil. Several women in Assam have reported their distress and the added labour that they have to undertake to take care of their families in the wake of a sudden crackdown.

Assam’s crackdown has laid bare the absence of women’s agency within the legal framework and its implementation. As per a survey, a majority of the cases filed between 2008 and 2017 were by families against elopement. The problem? Patriarchal culture makes girls’ choices indigestible. It also underscores the restrictive and surveillance-ridden upbringing that many girls hope to escape through elopement.

Reference Links:

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Assam’s crackdown on child marriage is progressive.

b) Assam’s crackdown on child marriage is arbitrary.


For the Right:

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For the Left:

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