Is BJP planning Assam-like crackdown on child marriages in other states?

Niraj Sharma
07 Feb 2023
Is BJP planning Assam-like crackdown on child marriages in other states?

New Delhi: After a successful implementation of the law against love jihad and the use of bulldozers against criminal elements, the Bharatiya Janata Party may soon replicate the Assam government's formula of stopping child marriages in states governed by the saffron unit.

Party sources stated that there is massive support for the policy being implemented by Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam. The BJP sees it as another game-changer policy, like setting up laws against love jihad and the use of bulldozers against criminal elements. And its implementation is being contemplated in other states being ruled by the saffron party as it could help ensure consolidation of the Hindu vote bank in favour of the BJP.

The Assam Cabinet had recently decided to book men who marry underage girls under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. Those who marry girls in the age group of 14-18 years will be tried under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.

Under the laws, the offenders will be arrested and the marriages declared illegal. Men marrying girls below 14 years of age will be facing non-bailable charges, while those marrying girls between 14 and 16 years of age will be charged under bailable sections. If the groom is below 14 years of age, he will be sent to a reform house. The move aims to curb child marriages and early motherhood in the state.

Within days of the policy’s implementation, several BJP-led state governments have expressed their desire to replicate the Assam model of child marriage prevention to arrest changing demographics in their respective states. The senior leadership of the party is also seemingly closely studying the policy and its application in other parts of the country is likely to be considered soon ahead of the crucial 2024 Lok Sabha polls, sources said.

Sources in the party stated that the move clearly gives out a message that appeasement of minorities will not be practised by the BJP governments regarding stopping underage marriages. “Governments of other parties have been overlooking this important law in an effort to appease the Muslim community. But by implementing the Assam model of stopping child marriages the BJP will be able to send across a clear message that such appeasement of the Muslim community will not be practised by the party,” sources said.

As per government statistics, 99 per cent of those being prosecuted for underage marriage by the Assam government hail from the Muslim community and a similar demographic statistic is expected to emerge from other parts of the country whenever this law is enforced.

“This shows widespread disregard for the country’s laws amongst the community. The Assam government has through this policy given out a message that child marriages in the state will be curbed at all costs to bring down the high rate of maternal and infant mortality rates,” sources said.

With Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma clearly stating that the drive against child marriage will continue till the next assembly elections in 2026 the stand of the government is only expected to harden.

Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the ideological parent of BJP, is also understood to be backing the Assam government’s move.

The Muslim community has cried hoarse and termed the latest crackdown by the Assam government against underage marriages as interference in their religious practices.

However, the state government claims that The earlier a girl enters wedlock the more children she is expected to bear during her reproductive years. Under Indian laws, the marriageable age for girls is 18 years and for men is 21 years. By adhering to these prescribed marriage ages the government wants to ensure that teenage pregnancies are restricted, sources said.

The state government claims that these steps would keep a check on alarming changes in demography in the Northeastern state and preserve its unique character.

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