The Assam government has made special budgetary allocation to battle child marriage in the state in the state budget tabled today. Assam Finance Minister Ajanta Neogi’s budget has allocated Rs 200 crore for special measures to stop child marriages. The money has been allocated to the Women and Child Development Department, which will spearhead the campaign.
All gram panchayat secretaries in the state are being designated as Child Marriage Prevention Officers. The district police will continue intensive drives every six months. There will be a Call Center to monitor complaints.
Last month, 3,483 people were arrested across the state, around 1,000 are still in jail, having been unable to get bail.
The Himanta Biswa Sarma government had conducted a controversial crackdown on child marriages last month and the budget indicates that it is a top agenda. Mr Sarma has said his government had tried to ensure that the crackdown was not communal and equal proportions of Muslims and Hindus were arrested.
The opposition has questioned the claim. “The Chief Minister said the child marriage arrests have been proportionate. When I said that it is 70:30 at Ground Zero, he said it is 55:45… the Chief Minister has always been speaking on communal lines,” said AIUDF MLA Karim Uddin Barbhuiya.
“It seems he is already preparing for 2024 polls and the budget is directed towards that,” he added.
“Whatever the Opposition has raised, is based on records from the National Crime Records Bureau… IPC 370 is for rape but in child marriages there were no complaints of rapes. Similarly, the POCSO act is for a different purpose but the government is using it to terrorize people,” said Debabrata Saikia, the Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly.
The Opposition sees the budgetary allocation as a political move.
But the chief minister is unfazed.
“Our action and commitment against child marriage have been reiterated in the state budget today with more vigor and it is not a communal issue at all. We are humanitarian about this issue,” Mr Sarma has said.
The state is considering a new law against child marriage and the state government’s drive against it will continue, he added.