Indian police have arrested more than 2,000 men in a crackdown on illegal child marriages involving girls under the age of 18 in a northeastern state, officials said Saturday.
Those arrested this week included more than 50 Hindu priests and Muslim clerics for allegedly performing marriages for underage girls in Assam, state police chief Gyanendra Pratap Singh said.
"We have so far arrested 2,169 men based on 4,074 registered police cases involving a total of about 8,000 men,” said Singh.
Many cases of child marriage in Assam, a state of 35 million people, go unreported.
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Only 155 cases of child marriages in the state were registered in 2021 and 138 in 2020, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
In India, the legal marriageable age is 21 for men and 18 for women. Poverty, lack of education, and social norms and practices, particularly in rural areas, are considered reasons for child marriages across the country.
Television images on Friday showed some young women with infants in their arms, crying and protesting the sudden arrests of their husbands.
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“We were struggling and somehow making ends meet. But we were happy together. Who will provide for our livelihood now that my husband has been arrested?” asked a young woman.
Singh said child marriages were one reason for the state's high infant mortality and maternal mortality rates.
“I have asked the Assam police to act with a spirit of zero tolerance against the unpardonable and heinous crime on women,” Himanta Biswa Sarma, the state's top elected official, tweeted.
India’s Parliament is considering legislation to raise the age for marriage for women to 21 from 18, to bring it in line with men and promote gender equality.
India’s Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani told Parliament on Friday that the move would enable girls to complete their education and achieve economic independence apart from achieving physical and psychological maturity.