Man arrested after 'marrying' 12-year-old girl

Last updated 12:51 08/02/2014

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A Lebanese university student had only been in Australia for a matter of weeks when he laid his eyes on his future wife.

He did not seem to mind that she was only 12-years-old.

The 26-year-old stepped off a plane in Sydney last August with a student visa and the intention of furthering his education at the University of Newcastle. At a local mosque, he met a 12-year-old girl whom he would later marry during an Islamic ceremony.

Police allege the accused took primary care of the young girl and moved with her to a home in Sydney's south-west.

In this home, he is accused of having sexual intercourse with the girl 25 times between January 1 and February 4. He told police he married the girl earlier this year and does not believe he has done anything wrong.

Commander of the Child Abuse Squad, Detective Inspector Peter Yeomans, said it was hard to believe such terrible offences could occur to a girl at "an obviously very tender age".

"You have to take religion and culture out if it and see it for what it is - a sexual assault of a 12-year-old-child," Inspector Yeomans said.

"In the end it is a 12-year-old child [and] no matter how we look at and how he wants to sway it culturally, ceremonies or anything else … he has been charged with numerous counts of sexual assault," he said. "I was astonished in relation to the background of the information."

Fairfax Media understands the accused tried to enroll the victim at a school close to their home but was not able to without legal guardianship.

It is believed he went to Centrelink in order to become the girl's legal guardian but a government worker reported his application to NSW Police.

On Thursday, child abuse squad detectives arrested the 26-year-old and took him to Auburn Police Station.

He was charged with 25 counts of sexual intercourse with a child aged between 10 and 14.

At the time of his arrest, his child bride had turned 13.

The young girl was taken into the protection of Family and Community Services where she will remain until a permanent home is found for her.

She has been medically examined and received counselling.

It is not clear whether the girl's father and mother were aware of the union.

At Burwood Local Court on Friday, the man sat silently in the dock wearing an orange, grey and white polo shirt and listened to the proceedings with the help of an Arabic interpreter.

Bail was not applied for but the magistrate Christopher Longley formally refused it.

The accused's lawyer said his client wished to make an application for bail next Wednesday, February 12.

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The Family and Community Services Minister, Pru Goward, said she was ''horrified'' by the case.

''Whatever the cultural practice, whatever the religious practice, there is no law in Australia above Australian law," she said.

''In this country, little girls have rights and in particular they have the right to a childhood free of this sort of abuse. That is what we are here as a community to uphold.''

Goward said she was aware there was a large number of unlawful, unregistered marriages to under age girls in NSW particularly in western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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