Police have made what they hope will be the first of several third-party arrests related to the marriage of a 12-year-old Muslim girl in New South Wales, Australia.
Riaz Tasawar, a Muslim cleric, was taken into custody for conducting the marriage between the girl, who is now 13, and a 26-year-old man last month, ABC Australia reports. Tasawar, the imam at a mosque in Newcastle, will face trial for solemnisation of a marriage by an unauthorised person.
The husband is also in police custody on 25 counts of sexual intercourse with a minor.
But police say that the chain of wrongdoing has not been broken.
"The investigation is nowhere near finished. Any further charges that can be laid will be laid, possibly subject to legal advice," Deputy Commissioner Nick Kalda told ABC.
The Islamic Centre of Newcastle is helping with the investigation, police say.
"What is most important at this point is for police to conclude their investigation and arrest all those responsible," the Centre said in a statement.
The Centre has kept the 35-year-old imam at arm’s length, calling him “innocent until proven guilty” but firing him from his post, according to news.com.au.
Tasawar is the first to be charged with his crime in New South Wales since records began in 1994. The penalty is a $500 fine or six months in jail.
The news outlet also reports that the girl’s father, a Muslim convert, has voiced his support for the marriage and lauded the husband for marrying his daughter and sanctifying their relationship in the eyes of Allah.
“They were in love, they were devoted to each other,'' he said.
According to New South Wales Community Services Minister Pru Goward, child marriages are not uncommon in the area, even if they’ve gone under the legal radar.
"This is a very secretive practice ... but it is not an unknown practice,'' Goward told The Australian. "I understand there are actually a significant number of unlawful, unregistered marriages to underaged girls in NSW, particularly in western Sydney, southwest Sydney and the Blue Mountains.”