CAMPAIGNERS are warning that clerics caught on camera agreeing to conduct marriage ceremonies involving a 14-year-old girl in a new television documentary represent “the tip of the iceberg”.
Shams-Ul-Huda Khan Mishabi, who preaches at the Jamia Masjid Kanzul Iman Mosque, in Heckmondwike, is one of a number of Muslim clerics apparently filmed agreeing to perform an Islamic marriage, or nikah, between a 14-year-old girl and an older man.
Reporters for ITV’s Exposure programme posing as the mother and brother of the teenager to be married secured agreement from 18 out of 56 mosques they approached.
Aneeta Prem, founder of the Freedom Charity which educates children about forced marriage, said: “I think whoever is involved in this, you are talking about child abuse and exploitation and it is something we need to stop.
“People are too culturally sensitive when dealing with this, they are worried about offending particular groups. We have to say it’s immoral and illegal and stamp it out.
“I think what we are hearing about is the tip of the iceberg, it is a huge problem.”
Nobody was available to comment at the Jamia Masjid Kanzul Iman Mosque yesterday, although it has reportedly launched an investigation while insisting its records show it has not been a party to forced or underage marriages.
The documentary, to be broadcast on Wednesday, will apparently show Mr Misbahi agreeing to perform the ceremony.
On being informed that the girl is against the marriage, he tells the reporters that British law means he will not be able to provide official marriage papers but adds: “We’ll make everything OK by Islam. We’ll write down and put it in our records.”
He goes on to tell the pair that the girl will be able to live with her husband after the ceremony.
In a statement, West Yorkshire Police said one forced marriage was “one too many”.
“It is a form of domestic violence and sometimes also of child sexual exploitation.
“West Yorkshire Police stand together alongside partners in the condemnation of forced marriage and are united in doing everything possible to protect people involved in forced marriage.
“In the first six months of this year, West Yorkshire Police, alongside other agencies, have worked and supported people through 129 incidents involving forced marriage and honour- based violence.”
Forced marriage is not currently a crime, although the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended it should become one two years ago.
Prime Minister David Cameron last year said the Government would make forcing someone to marry a specific criminal offence and the measure is part of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill going through Parliament.
However, some campaigners on the issue have warned that creating a criminal offence could deter victims from coming forward because they will not want to risk relatives going to prison.
They have also expressed concern that it may lead to youngsters being taken overseas at an earlier age to be put through forced marriages.
The civil courts can already issue a Forced Marriage Protection Order to protect an individual at risk of being coerced into a marriage or who has been involved in a forced marriage which can include powers of arrest.