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Assam detention centres for foreigners used to jail child marriage accused

ByBiswa Kalyan Purkayastha
Feb 08, 2023 12:30 AM IST

Silchar: The Assam government has converted two of its detention centres for foreigners into temporary prisons for those arrested for their involvement in child marriages in the state, officials said on Tuesday

Silchar: The Assam government has converted two of its detention centres for foreigners into temporary prisons for those arrested for their involvement in child marriages in the state, officials said on Tuesday.

Morigaon: A policeman speaks with relatives of people arrested by police for their alleged involvement in child marriages, during Assam government's statewide crackdown on child marriages, outside Mayong police station in Morigaon district, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. (PTI Photo)(PTI02_04_2023_000141A) (PTI)

The state government on February 3 started a campaign to arrest those accused of child marriage under stringent sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), 2012, and the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act. Men who married girls below the age of 14 are being booked under POCSO, and those who married girls between 14 and 18 years under the Prohibition of Child Marriages Act.

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State police has already lodged 4,074 cases and arrested 2,510 individuals till Tuesday afternoon, according to Prashanta Kumar Bhuyan, inspector general of police, law and order. Since there is shortage of space in regular jails and in view of protests over the arrests, the government has decided to keep the accused in these cases in the two detention centres meant to incarcerate foreigners, Bhuyan said.

“One of them is the Matia Transit Camp in Goalpara district and the other is at the premises of National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP) in Cachar district,” he said. “The Matia Transit Camp is made for foreigners and some of the declared foreigners are already there. We are using one part of it to house the arrested persons in child marriage cases.”

Matia Transit Camp, Assam’s largest detention centre, became operational in January. Built on 28,800 sq. ft area in Goalpara, it is about 130km from state capital Guwahati.

Goalpara’s superintendent of police, VV Rakesh Reddy, said they have started keeping the arrested husbands in the Matia Transit Camp since Sunday. So far, 450 arrested persons have been shifted there.

“The capacity of the transit camp is 3,000, but we are initially using only one part of it because there are foreigners too. We’ll use the space for 2,000 people as for now,” Reddy said.

The Matia camp will be used to keep those arrested in upper Assam districts, while NATRiP will be used for three districts of Barak Valley. “Like other parts of Assam, jails in three districts of Barak Valley are not filled yet. But we are keeping the temporary jail inside NATRiP ready,” Bhuyan said.

Cachar district’s superintendent of police, Numal Mahatta, said they selected NATRiP, which can house over 500 people, following an order from the government. “Arrested persons from three districts will be shifted here, if required,” Mahatta said.

On Monday, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma blamed child marriages for the high rate of teenage pregnancies and said the crackdown will continue despite protests by the opposition Congress party.

“Of the total 620,867 pregnancies reported in 2022, 104,264 were teenage mothers. Within the districts, Barpeta tops the list with 28.7%, followed by Dhubri and South Salmara (27.9%) and Goalpara (24.1%). Tinsukia registered lowest rate of teenage pregnancy with 8.4%,” Sarma tweeted on Monday.

On Monday, the chief minister revealed that only around 58% of those arrested were Muslims to debunk claims by opposition parties that the drive was targeted at the minority community.

Opposition leaders such as Ripun Bora of the Trinamool Congress and Bhupen Kumar Borah of the Congress had argued that one particular community was being targeted with this drive.

“One can easily see that the drive is targeted against the minority community,” Borah said on Sunday. “How can one be booked retrospectively?” On Tuesday, Nari Mukti Sanstha, All India Progressive Womens’ Association, Forum For Social Harmony and some other organisations jointly staged a protest in Guwahati against the drive.

Amid the crackdown on child marriages, a mother of two kids died by suicide in Assam’s South Salmara-Mancachar district on Friday, fearing arrest of her parents for marrying her before she turned 18. The woman aged 27 years reportedly hanged herself at home on Friday night. Her body was recovered by police on Saturday. She was married in 2012 when she was about 16 years old. Her husband died due to Covid-19 in 2020 and she shifted to her parents’ house in Makachar with her kids, police said.

In another case in Cachar district, 16-year-old girl reportedly hung herself before getting married. Her marriage was fixed with a 21-year-old man before the crackdown on child marriage began.Her mother claimed that she was afraid that her husband and family members will be arrested if she gets married.

Sarma on Monday said that the drive would continue as he has “no sympathy” for those who marry minors.

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