Amid Assam’s Child Marriage Crackdown, News18 Investigation Reveals Young Girls Falling Prey to Traffickers
The crackdown on child marriage in Assam has so far led to the arrest of at least 2,789 people, officials say. Most of them are “husbands”, some are kazis, pujaris, parents, and relatives who have been accused of being part of getting minor girls married. An investigation by CNN-News18 found another shocking way such girls are being exploited: they are being trafficked and sometimes also being sold off by their own parents.
Young girls from financially poor families are falling prey to human traffickers who are adopting different strategies to lure their victims, by promising marriage or giving them jobs, for instance. Sometimes they approach parents who sell their daughters at the early ages of 9 or 10.
Speaking to CNN-News18, Sunita Changkakoti, chairperson of the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR), said, “There are so many cases in Assam where minor and young girls are being promised marriage, sometimes even taken to other states, and sold to brothels. Very sadly it has also been seen that sometimes it is the parents who sell them at the ages of around 10-16. We, in cooperation with police, try our best to rescue the minors and the young girls wherever we learn about such situations.”
A 14-year-old girl also narrated her ordeal to CNN-News18. “We are from a very poor family. My mother eloped with someone when I was 8 years old. My father tried to bring her back twice but she fled again. It was getting difficult for him to keep the household going. One day, a man came to our house, gave some money to my father, and took me with him. I didn’t know where I was being taken. I remember we changed three buses to reach his home. I was then 10 years old. The man tortured me so much that I ran away. I ended up in an unknown place. Some good people brought me to this rehabilitation centre. My father once came in 2021. He promised to take me home. He never came back after that.”
CNN-News18 also spoke to Prerna Changkakati, executive director, Assam Centre for Rural Development. “18 years is only a mark of attaining maturity. It is not like at the age of 18, a girl starts knowing everything, and gains maturity. There are young girls of 20 years who are also on target. Minors, however, are mostly given away by their own parents after traffickers approach them, talking about marriage and jobs,” she said.
Another victim, now 23, also shared what she had to go through. “I met Anowar on Facebook some 4 years ago. I was then a student at SB Deorah College. The financial condition of my family was not good. He asked me for marriage. Said he would take me to Mumbai, marry me, and give me a job. He came and took me with him. For the first 3-4 months, he took care of me. We stayed together. He said we would get married. Then he started saying that we don’t have enough money left, so I would have to go with his friends who would help with money. One day he took me to a brothel in Mumbai and left me there. Mumbai police raided that place and rescued and sent me here to Assam,” she said. “I wanted to get him arrested because it was not just me but there were other minors and young girls he was talking to. And maybe more like me could be trapped. So with the help of the police and an NGO, we set a trap to get hold of him. I contacted him over the phone and told him that I wanted to go back to Mumbai. He first refused but a few days later he asked me to come to Mumbai and said he would get my ticket booked. I told him I couldn’t come alone. Then he said that he would come to take me, but as it would cost him some money, I would have to go somewhere else where a man would pay 50,000 rupees for me. The first time he cancelled his visit. The second time he came with a friend of his. He changed locations three times for the meeting. Finally, he came to Basistha, where with the help of local police we were able to nab the trafficker. He was planning to sell me for the second time.”
In another recent case near Guwahati, a 17-year-old girl was rescued after she had eloped with her lover Amanul Haque as he promised to marry her. Later, when her parents filed a kidnapping case, she was found by the police. As she was not willing to go home to face abuse from her parents, she opted to stay in the rehabilitation centre.
Speaking on the issue earlier, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said, “Any form of exploitation of minors won’t be accepted. The Assam government will show zero tolerance to cases under POCSO. Along with child marriage comes the issue of children being trafficked, sometimes even to other states. We are already tracking them down. But we will look deeper and take more stern action.”
In another recent case, a 16-year-old girl from Boko town told CNN-News18 about what transpired with her. “There was a man who loved me for about one and a half years. I was 14. He told me he was divorced. I was not accepting his proposal. At the time, I was staying with my sister and brother-in-law. One day at a marriage function, he saw me and told my brother-in-law that he wanted to marry me. My brother-in-law kept refusing him for a year. But one day, on Krishna puja, I was invited to his place. He didn’t let me come back. But he didn’t marry me. He raped me and filmed it. Later, Childline from Boko rescued me. Now that person is in jail. My parents died when I was 11 years old. So I had to stay with my sister and brother-in-law. But my brother-in-law also sexually harassed me a few times, and I thought getting married was my only option,” she said.
Investigation officer Apurba Kalita said, “We have already arrested both accused and sent the victim to the rehabilitation centre.”
Child trafficking and child marriages in Assam have been following a similar modus operandi. Many victims of trafficking have also supported the crackdown on child marriage and say it gives them hope.
However, there’s also been some criticism.
Pinkie Matiya, a teacher, told CNN-News18, “This is a very laudable step taken by the government but not in a proper way…They have to be made aware through meetings and counselling. Only arrests can’t be the solution.
Priyanka Nath, a social worker from Assam, said, “We have to go to the roots and uproot such social evils. You can’t rush and arrest and hope all goes well. What about when the husbands come back? Will they still be staying as husband and wife? Will the women get remarried? There are so many other questions. This is only being done for political points.”
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