Earlier this week, authorities in Hyderabad, India, arrested eight Arab men - 5 Omanis and 3 Qataris, who were "trying to marry minor girls and traffic them to the Middle East," Indian Express reported.
The arrests come amid a major crackdown on child marriage in the area, which often sees female minors married off to rich sheikhs from several Gulf nations.
Apart from two of the men who are allegedly in their 80s, the other suspects are said to be in their 50s and 60s.
Four lodge owners, five child marriage 'brokers,' and three Qazis (judges) were also arrested during the crackdown.
According to police reports, 35 'brokers,' 25 of whom are women, were found in Hyderabad alone.
In his statement on the matter, assistant commissioner of Falaknuma's police division, Mohammed Tajuddin Ahmed said:
The men "were in the process of selecting young girls to enter into fake marriage agreements. Brokers were bringing the girls to the guesthouses where the eight men were staying and displaying them."
"The brokers have promised the girls’ parents if the sheikhs select their daughter for marriage they would pay Rs 1 lakh ($1,500). The brokers take Rs 2 to 3 lakhs ($3000-$4,500),” he explained.
All the Arab men involved in the latest case were arrested "along with three brokers and three qazis (judges) who were paid to perform the marriages," Ahmed added.
Not a first in Hyderabad
The latest raid comes a few weeks after police investigated and arrested an Omani national for marrying a 17-year-old Hyderabadi.
In recent months, Indian police have identified over fifteen Hyderabadi brokers who live in Gulf states, mainly in Oman and Qatar.
According to the South Zone Deputy Commissioner of Police, V Satyanarayana, “these brokers help the sheikhs get in touch with families of girls."
"There are several women whose main job is to identify poor families who are interested in giving away their daughters in the name of marriage for money without bothering about the age and intention of the groom. In cases where the sheikhs arranged visas and took the newly-married girls with them, the girls end up getting exploited by several others. A few victims we have interviewed have themselves told women police about it,” Satyanarayana explained.
'Brokers' often offer 'packages' to rich Arab men who are willing to pay for 'teenage brides.'
"The packages — from arranging meetings with girls to accommodation to marriage — range from Rs 3 to 10 lakhs ($4,500-$15,000).
Child marriage continues to be a major global problem
According to the World Economic Forum, 117 countries around the world allow child marriages, either because there is no age specification or it is allowed under certain circumstances.
Globally, UNICEF claims 39,000 child marriages occur daily. While one in three girls in the developing world are forced into marriage before the age of 18.
In recently released global slavery statistics forced marriage was included for the first time showing ‘money and debt’ to be at the heart of the exploitation. The figures, from the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation revealed that 15.4 million people were forced into marriage last year. Children account for 10 million of the overall 40.3m total, while women and girls accounted for 71% or 29 million of all modern slavery victims in 2016.
Fight for change in the Arab world
As the problem persists globally, individuals and organizations have been fighting against the practice in the Arab world.
Members of Saudi Arabia's Shura Council sent a letter to the Justice Ministry, demanding that marriage for girls under 15 years of age be banned back in July.
Lebanese NGO KAFA has long been fighting for change, launching campaign after campaign in an effort to amend Article 9 of the Lebanese Constitution, which gives religious authorities the freedom to impose their own laws on various issues including marriage, divorce, and child custody.