The Guwahati High Court on Wednesday (15 February) granted anticipatory bail to nine men arrested in the recent Assam government drive against child marriages.
The court also held that these cases (under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012) are not “matters of custodial investigation”. The court said, “Why Section 376 (of IPC)? Is there any allegation rape here? These are all weird allegations, absolutely weird.”
“We will ask them to appear and record their statements. These are not NDPS, smuggling, stolen property cases,” said Justice Suman Shyam.
He added, “If the marriage is taking place in violation of law, the law will take its own course … We will only consider if immediate custodial investigation is required or not".
He went on to ask the authorities what would it achieve through custodial investigation. “Either he has abetted or not. Either it’s a case of child marriage or it is not. For that, is it necessary to have custodial interrogation? What is the idea behind this?”
The Assam government recently started a crackdown on child marriages in the state. Chief Minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma tweeted that teenage pregnancies are quite alarming at 16.8 per cent and more than 20 per cent in many districts (Barpeta, Dhubri, Goalpara, Kokrajhar, etc.).
Reports say that till 14 February, a total of 3,031 arrests have been made in 4,225 child marriage cases. The drive started after a cabinet meeting on 23 January decided that strict measures need to be taken to check child marriages in the states, keeping in mind the National Family Health Survey 5 (NFHS-5).
Assam ranks among the top states in percentages of rural women aged 20-24 who were married before the age of 18 with 33.4 per cent, only behind West Bengal (48.1 per cent) and Jharkhand (36.1 per cent), and it has only increased in West Bengal, Assam, Tripura, and Manipur, while other states showed a decline.
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