BEIRUT: Australian police Tuesday arrested a sheikh who married a Lebanese man and a 12-year-old girl in Sydney, according to media reports, just a week after the husband was taken into custody.
Ahmad Chamma, 26, got married sometime in January 2013 in a ceremony reportedly conducted by Pakistani Sheikh Riaz Tasawar, 35, in the girl’s own living room.
Tasawar was arrested Tuesday and released on bail with an order to appear in court on April 2. Chamma was arrested last week and charged with 25 counts of sexual intercourse with a child between 10 and 14 years old. He was refused bail.
Chamma was living on a student visa and studying computer sciences at the University of Newcastle in 2012 when he met the girl, whose name has not been released.
He then moved with her to a housing unit in southwest Sydney before marrying her.
Australia’s Child Abuse Squad caught wind of the case after an employee at Centrelink, a local organization that delivers a range of government payments and services, told them a man had tried to obtain guardianship of the girl and unwittingly revealed information about their relationship. The investigation is still ongoing.
According to reports, the girl has been taken into state care. Neither the New South Wales Department of Community Services nor the Newcastle Muslim Association was immediately available for comment.
News of the story spread across Australian media last week, prompting an outpouring of angry messages on social media websites.
According to local tabloid The Daily Telegraph, the girl’s father expressed support for Chamma, and said the only way the couple could stay together was if they married.
Chamma and the girl’s father are reportedly both Muslim converts.
Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward said her department had heard of “significant numbers of unlawful, unregistered marriages in NSW [New South Wales], particularly in southwest Sydney, western Sydney and the Blue Mountains,” according to The Daily Telegraph.
“In this country, little girls have rights, and in particular, they have the right to a childhood free from this kind of abuse,” she said.
The legal marrying age in Australia is 18, unless a court approves a marriage where one person is aged between 16 and 18.