by Richard Noone, Phil Jacob, Leigh van den Broeke and Ashlee Mullany
for The Telegraph (Australia)
Centrelink sources say the girl was removed from the home she shared with her 26-year-old “husband” hours after enquiring about what support would be available to a spousal visa holder on Wednesday morning.
Concerns also emerged after the man attempted to enrol the girl in a Western Sydney high school.
Newcastle Muslim Association president Bikash “Shahriar” Paul said the accused man was an “occasional” worshipper at a mosque in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney, where he met the girl.
Mr Paul said he believed the man was originally from Lebanon but had moved to the Hunter Region to study computers at a nearby university about nine months ago.
It’s understood police will allege the marriage took place in a backyard in Sydney’s west on January 11.
After hearing reports about the charges yesterday morning on radio Mr Paul said he called the girl’s father who confirmed “it’s my girl”.
He said the girl’s father “was aware” of the marriage and that police had contacted him on Thursday but did not elaborate further.
The man was arrested by detectives from the Child Abuse Squad and charged with 25 counts of sexual intercourse with a child.
He was denied bail at Burwood court yesterday and will reappear next Wednesday.
Shocked residents in the western Sydney suburb where the couple lived expressed anger about the alleged offences.
One neighbour said before they moved in they had mistakenly gone to the wrong house for an inspection. She said she saw the girl wearing a pink hijab and her partner apologised for the intrusion.
A leading health services counsellor has warned that hundreds of children as young as eleven are being sent overseas to be married after being “shopped” on Facebook.
Ms Sharobeem, the Director of the Immigrant Women’s Health Services, said children were involved in illegal marriages both in Australia and overseas: “It’s far more prevalent and well-known than people think.”
Minister for Family and Community Services, Pru Goward conceded the problem was more widespread than the case identified yesterday, saying her department had heard of “significant numbers of unlawful, unregistered marriages in NSW, particularly in south west Sydney, western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.”
“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 has approved a marriage where one party is aged between 16 and 18.