The Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), Priyank Kanoongo has said that he is pained by the recent remarks of the Gauhati High Court against the invocation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 against those involved in child marriages.

A single bench of the High Court had asked the State government why it is invoking the POCSO Act in such cases and had said that the state’s campaign is creating “havoc in the private life of people”. The Court made the remark while granting anticipatory bail to an accused in one such case.

The Assam Government has initiated a massive crackdown on child marriages in the state. Around 2,500 people have been arrested in the state for marrying minor girls or facilitating such marriages.

Priyank Kanoongo was speaking at an event organized by the Nation First Writers’ Forum on the subject “Child Marriage, Child Rights and Child Mental Health”. Clinical Psychologist Dr. Mythili Hazarika and Advocate Bijan Mahanta also spoke during the event.

Speaking on political opposition to the state’s actions to curb Child Marriages, Priyank Kanoongo said that it is shameful that questions are being raised when an elected government is performing its duty by implementing the law.

The fight for child rights was started by Mahatma Gandhi before Independence. Even after around 100 years of making a law, it was not being properly implemented”, he said referring to the antiquity of the laws in India against Child Marriage.

Priyank Kanoongo said that the government at the centre has a “no tolerance” policy on such issues.

Will the country follow the path of Mahatma Gandhi or Badruddin Ajmal”, asked the NCPCR Chairperson, adding that to view child-related laws through a communal lens is unfortunate and amounts to "communal appeasement". “They are secular laws. We should keep politics away from child rights”, he said.

The Guahati High Court has made unfortunate remarks about the issue. I am pained”, he said.

Priyank Kanoongo also spoke about the Punjab & Haryana High Court’s order that a Muslim girl can marry at the age of 16 as per Mohammedan Law. The NCPCR had approached the Apex Court against the said order and the Court issued notice on the appeal. The Court also said that the decision of the High Court will not act as a precedent, though it did not stay the order.

Are we saying that we won’t protect the rights of some children only because they are Muslims? Is not child marriage an excuse for child abuse?” he asked.

Priyank Kanoongo also said that the remark of the Assam High Court is being studied and if needed, the NCPCR will intervene in appropriate proceedings before the Assam High Court to protect the rights of the children of Assam.

During his talk, he also likened Child Marriage to the practice of Sati. “Were people not sent to jail? Without it, could we have stopped Sati? Will we stop implementing the dowry laws and stop sending people to jail for dowry-related offences?”, he asked.

The Commission is with the State of Assam,” he said. Answering a question about the implementation of laws against Child Marriage in other states, he said that Assam is a role model for other states and that they should follow the centre’s ‘Look East Policy’.

Recently, Priyank Kanoongo had responded to Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi's tweet that the use of the POCSO Act against those involved in child marriage is Assam is "reprehensible" and "motivated". The NCPCR Chairperson had said that viewing those laws through the spectacle of communalism is "appeasement".

The Delhi High Court had recently held that the age of puberty as per Muslim law is not applicable to the POCSO Act while refusing to quash an FIR for the rape of a 16-year-old.

The Jharkhand High Court had held that a Muslim girl at the age of 15 years can marry a person of her choice as per Muslim Personal Law.

Earlier, the Karnataka High Court while denying bail to a Muslim man accused of raping a minor Muslim girl observed that POCSO and IPC are substantive Acts and shall prevail over personal law.