While in many parts of India, it's a tradition for Hindus to perform child marriages on Akhshyatriti which falls on May 3, data from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suggests that every third marriage in Assam is child marriage. The highest number of child marriages occurs in the Barpeta district of Assam.
Such a high rate of child marriage has also worried the Barpeta district administration. Recently Barpeta district deputy commissioner Tej Prasad Bhusal held an awareness meeting and resolved to take anti-child marriage measures. During the meeting, Bhusal announced that a reward of Rs 1,000 will be given to anyone who gives information about child marriages in the Barpeta district. Bhusal says the administration and police alone cannot completely prevent child marriage. Cooperation with the help of the public and other events is always necessary.
Welcoming the announcement of the cash award by the Deputy Commissioner of Barpeta district, anti-child marriage crusader Rafiqul Islam said the move will receive positive responses. The cash award will be an incentive for many to give information about child marriages so these could be prevented in time, he said.
Awareness campaign against child marriages
"Despite being a legal offense with a punishment regime, the practice of child marriage continues in the state. The punishment of the guilty is rare and the fear of the law of those who have performed child marriages is very low, “ Islam said.
Barpeta and char or riverine areas of other lower Assam districts are hubs of child marriages. Many criminal and anti-social forces are associated with such child marriages. Faced with all these odds, Rafiqul Islam left his simple teaching profession in a private school in 2015 and started a fight against child marriage.
"Child marriage is still not considered a crime among many backward communities due to a lack of scientific and legal approach. Poverty, illiteracy, tendency to have multiple children, and neglect of girl child are the main reasons for child marriage,” Rafiqul said.
According to Rafiqul despite child marriage being a legal offense, very few cases are registered with the police station. The laws against child marriage are not implemented effectively. A few advocates seem to be working in favour of child marriage by misinterpreting these laws, he said.
Child marriage is a grave offense as per laws. A marriage is considered a child marriage from a legal point of view if the groom is under the age of 21 or the bride is under the age of 18. The punishment for all adult men involved in this marriage is rigorous imprisonment of two years along with a fine of Rs 1 lakh.