Indian police on Tuesday (19 September) busted an international human trafficking racket that involved elderly sheikhs of Oman and Qatar, who illegally married minor girls to take them abroad. They also rescued 12 girls from the traffickers.
At least 20 people, including five Omani residents, three Qatari nationals and three qazis (Muslim clerics who solemnise weddings), were arrested following multiple raids in different cities in western and southern India.
The raids were conducted following a tip-off from a 16-year-old victim in Hyderabad in southern India, and a rise in child marriages in the city. The girl was reportedly interviewed by a 50-year-old sheikh for marriage.
One of the arrested sheikhs, who is from Qatar, was caught red-handed marrying a teenage girl on Tuesday night, police were quoted as saying by The Times of India.
Police said the kingpin of the racket, identified as Farid Ahmed Khan, 63, was a cleric from Mumbai — the financial capital of India. He charged the sheikhs 70,000 Indian rupees (£801, $1,082) to issue fake marriage certificates and other documents for travelling abroad. He was arrested following a joint operation by the Hyderabad and Mumbai police. He reportedly confessed to issuing fake documents to sheikhs in exchange for money.
Police also arrested five middlemen and four hotel owners in Hyderabad.
The Hyderabad police began the investigation after a girl aged 16 was found to have been married to a 65-year-old Arab national in Hyderabad and the marriage certificate issued from Mumbai.
"Usually after marriage, a couple needs to seek permission from the state minority department, where the marriage was performed, to get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) so that the women can get their visa easily. However, in this case, we found that the certificate was issued in Mumbai," deputy commissioner of police, south zone, V Satyanarayana, told the paper.
He added that their investigation led them to Khan, who operated from an office in Mumbai's Bhendi Bazar area. Police seized several rubber stamps allegedly used to issue fake visa documents.