Back in September ’08, I posted about the conviction of Syed Mustafa Zaidi who was found guilty of child cruelty for forcing two boys to beat themselves with a bladed whip during a Shia Muslim ceremony.

Today the story of a 12 year old girl forced into illegally marrying her 16 year old cousin and then being subsequently raped by him – all at the behest of both children’s fathers and the mother of the boy – raises many of the same questions. As I put it back then – and in recognising the loaded nature of the language – how far can a society ‘tolerate’ certain cultural (and religious) practices when they go against the ‘norms’ of that society?

As with the Zaidi case, all parties were successfully and rightly prosecuted. But what about when practices are not criminal but still go against what might be seen to be the norm? How do we – or indeed should we – respond to them?

Take for instance circumcision (male and female genital mutilation if the language of male and female ‘circumcision’ is to be equalised) and halal/ kosher ritual slaughter? Neither are criminal offences nor indeed is the wearing of the niqab but all – particularly if opinion polls are to be believed – are in varying degrees largely unpopular in today’s British society.

Pasted below is the reporting of the story from the Haringey Independent but before that, I’ll pose a couple of questions that I have done so before:

  • Does a society need to have ‘boundaries’?
  • And is the demarcation between the criminal and non-criminal always enough?

17-year-old sentenced for raping 12-year-old Tottenham ‘wife’

A teenager has been sentenced for raping his 12-year-old cousin following an illegal wedding ceremony arranged by her family.

She was taken by her father and her uncle from her Tottenham home to her cousin’s house in Woolwich, without her mother’s consent. Once there the girl’s father staged an illegal marriage between the girl and her cousin, who was just 16 at the time, before he and the boy’s parents allowed the pair to have sex.

The 17-year-old was sentenced to an 18-month supervision order at Wood Green Crown Court today and will be placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for two years.

His parents, both 54, and from the Woolwich area, and the girl’s father, 29, from Tottenham, have also been convicted of causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity following an illegal marriage ceremony. Police were alerted by the girl’s mother.

The 16-year-old, his parents and the girl’s father were arrested in April 2008.

The victim’s mother said: “What happened to my daughter was a nightmare; these convictions will help us move on.”

All four of those charged were found guilty on November 18.

The teenage boy’s mother received a 12-month jail term suspended for two years and 200 hours community service. She will be placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for ten years.

His father was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and will be placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for life.

The 12-year-old victim’s father was jailed for three years and will also be placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for life.

The convictions followed a lengthy and meticulous investigation by detectives from the Child Abuse Investigation Team at Highgate.

The girl’s mother said: “DI McHugh and DC Hodges from Haringey Child Abuse Team have been very supportive through the case. If you have been forced into a marriage or have been victim to such sexual abuse, there is help out there. The police will help you. Do not feel frightened to speak out.”

Detective Inspector Noel McHugh, who led the investigation, said: “I am extremely pleased that today’s result brings closure to a really awful crime and I hope that this will enable the young victim and her mother to move on. “This has been an exceptionally challenging investigation and we are grateful to all those who assisted with the case and ensured the convictions. “We worked closely with, and are particularly indebted to, Haringey Council Children Services, the National Association of Muslim Police and the Henna Foundation, who help women cope with forced marriages, for their expert guidance. “The offences committed are incomprehensible and the victim is a truly brave girl who suffered at the hands of those who should have offered her protection. The girl and her mother assisted the investigation throughout.”

Although the marriage was forced and not recognised by British law, police are working with a civil lawyer recommended by the Henna Foundation to have the marriage annulled.

On sentencing Judge Morrison commended investigating officer DC Gareth Hodges for his handling of the case.

Creative Commons License

This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.

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