An imam accused of conducting the illegal marriage of a 12-year-old girl has been granted conditional bail as police decide whether to lay charges against the child bride’s father.
The arrest of the imam came as the 26-year-old man accused of ”marrying” and having a sexual relationship with the girl prepared to apply for his release from custody on Wednesday.
Child abuse detectives allege the 35-year-old imam performed a marriage ceremony in the Hunter Valley this year. Detectives arrested the imam at Parramatta police station on Monday and charged him with solemnisation of a marriage by an unauthorised person.
Police will allege the imam conducted the Islamic ceremony after he was approached by a Lebanese man who was visiting Australia.
The victim’s father consented to the marriage and allowed the ceremony to take place in his home on January 12. He then allowed his daughter and the accused to move to south-west Sydney.
Police said they believed the imam had been associated with an Islamic centre and mosque in the Hunter region ”on and off” since 2009. It is understood the imam made frequent trips from Australia to Pakistan during this time.
He was released on strict conditional bail and is expected to appear before Parramatta Local Court on April 2.
On Tuesday Premier Barry O’Farrell said he was pleased that the Muslim religious leader had been arrested.
”I’m delighted charges have been laid,” Mr O’Farrell told reporters. ”This charging of this person sends a strong message, whether to religious celebrants or civil celebrants.”
Police arrested the victim’s ”husband” last Thursday and charged him with 25 counts of having sexual intercourse with a child between January 1 and February 4 this year.
The accused had been living in Australia on a student visa and attending the University of Newcastle. It is understood he had no ties with the town he was living in but met the under-age victim through a local mosque.
He was formally refused bail at Burwood Local Court last Friday and will remain behind bars until he makes an application for bail.
Police say they do not believe the girl’s mother had any knowledge of the ”marriage” or that her daughter had moved to Sydney with a 26-year-old man.
It is understood the girl’s father and mother are separated.
Police learnt of the man and under-age girl’s marriage after the accused tried to enrol the girl, who recently turned 13, at school and applied for legal guardianship through Centrelink.
The victim has been taken into the care of the Department of Family and Community Services until a permanent home can be found for her.
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