In an undercover investigation, a Shi’te mosque leader agreed to marry a 12-year-old girl so long as she was a willing participant.
A Sunday Times journalist visited the Husaini Islamic Centre in Peterborough (pictured) the ‘first Shi’te mosque in the whole of Europe’ – posing as the father of a 12-year-old girl.
According to the newspaper, the reporter was told by Imam Mohamed Kassamali that ‘under sharia [Islamic law] there is no problem’ in marrying a 12-year-old.
But while he declared Islamic Law dictated a girl should see ‘her first sign of puberty at the house of her husband’, he admitted they would all get in to trouble if she went to police saying she was forced into the marriage.
He told the parents he would need to meet the bride and groom to be sure they were happy to go ahead with the marriage and urged them to delay having intimate relations until they were older.
When approached by the newspaper he insisted he would only have carried out the ceremony if it was allowed under British law and if both parties had not been coerced into the marriage.
But another retired Imam, Abdul Haque, who worships at the Shoreditch Mosque in east London, agreed to carry out the ceremony on the condition the parents kept it a secret from the authorities.
The Imam urged the undercover reporter to lie about the marriage and keep it a secret.
Haque said: ‘Tell people it is an engagement but it will be a marriage.
‘In Islam, once the girl reaches puberty the father has the right, the parents have the right, but under the laws of this country if the girl complains and says her marriage has been arranged and she wasn’t of marriageable age, then the person who performed the marriage will be jailed as well as the mother and father.’
He then warned: ‘Nobody should know about this and the girl must not complain… If she talks in school they will take the girl, social workers will take her and afterwards you and I will be in trouble.’
The current British law allows for Imans to carry out religious marriage ceremonies of consenting brides and grooms aged under 16 so long as they don’t have sex until they are 16.
Under Sharia law both parties must to consent to the marriage and they can then live as man and wife and have sex irrespective of age.
But under British law, the legal age of consent is 16, so a husband could be prosecuted for rape if he has sex with a girl under that age – even if it is his wife.
But campaigners claim that the current law doesn’t protect young Muslim people from being forced into marriages – stating a child is not capable of agreeing to marriage.
Courts now have the power to issue forced marriage protection orders (FMPOs) against a person suspected of trying to force a person into marriage and breach of the order is treated as contempt of court.
Prime Minister David Cameron has announced plans to make enforced marriage a criminal offence to help prevent underage Sharia marriages.