Police in Assam have arrested 15 qazis, or Islamic judges, accused of conducting child marriages. They were arrested on Wednesday from the state’s Hailakandi district. Police also seized 10 marriage certificates from the accused’s possession. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma declared “around 3,000 persons will be arrested (in the next 10 days)” on child marriage charges.
“The crackdown will continue. Earlier this year we arrested many, including priests and qazis… Child marriage is a social evil and has disastrous effects,” he said. Earlier this month he vowed a “massive op” against child marriages, in connection with which thousands have already been arrested.
The war on child marriages began at the start of the year after the Chief Minister claimed authorities were investigating over 4,000 cases. He vowed that “thousands will be arrested”, the “war” will be “secular”, and that action will continue till 2026, when Assam will hold its next Assembly election.
He also said men who married girls below 14 would face charges under POCSO, or the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, and cited a case where a nine-year-old girl was forced to give birth.
The legal age for marriage is 18 years for women and 21 for men.
Legal experts, however, have questioned if it is possible to apply POCSO in child marriage cases.
That was after the Gauhati High Court red-flagged the filing of charges under a law designed to protect children from sexual crimes. A judge hearing one such case called it “weird”.
“This (the spate of arrests) is causing havoc in private lives of people… obviously it (child marriage) is a bad idea. We will give our views but, at the moment, the issue is if they should be arrested.”
Opposition parties have also criticised drive, terming the arrests of teenage husbands and family members an “abuse of law” for political gain, and equating police action with “terrorising people”.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday Assam set up a five-member panel, under the chairmanship of the state’s Advocate General, Devajit Lon Saikia, to draft legislation to ban polygamy and related issues, like false identities in inter-religious marriages and the role of a qazi in child marriages.
The Assam government is likely to introduce a bill in the Assembly’ December session.
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