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Indian police arrest over 2,000 men for illegal child marriages


GUWAHATI, India — 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 on Saturday.

Among those arrested this week were 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 police registered cases involving a total of approximately 8,000 men,” Singh said.

Many cases of child marriage in Assam, a state of 35 million people, go unreported.

Only 155 cases of child marriages in the state were recorded in 2021 and 138 in 2020, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

In India, the legal age of marriage is 21 for men and 18 for women. Poverty, lack of education, and social norms and practices, especially in rural areas, are seen as reasons for child marriages across the country.

Television footage from Friday showed young women with infants in their arms, crying and protesting the sudden arrests of their husbands.

“We were struggling and we were making ends meet. But we were happy together. Who will support us now that my husband has been arrested? asked a young woman.

Singh said child marriages were one of the reasons for the state’s high infant mortality and maternal mortality rates.

“I have requested Assam Police to act with a spirit of zero tolerance against the unforgivable and heinous crime against women,” tweeted Himanta Biswa Sarma, the state’s highest elected official.

The Indian Parliament is considering legislation to raise the age of marriage for women from 18 to 21, to bring it in line with that of men and promote gender equality.

India’s Minister for Women’s and Child’s Development, Smriti Irani, told parliament on Friday that the move would enable girls to complete their education and achieve economic independence in addition to achieving physical maturity and psychological.

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