Mom sentenced over teen's forced marriage

Mauritanians in Spain protest against 'attack on customs'

A Spanish court has sentenced a Mauritanian to 17 years in prison after she allegedly forced her underage daughter to marry an older man and have sex with him, sparking protests from Mauritanians in southern Spain.

Hawa Mint Cheik El Bou fainted outside a courtroom in the southern city of Cadiz after being told of the sentence against her on Tuesday, and was assisted by a crowd of fellow immigrants from her Northwest African home country who carried signs calling for their customs to be respected.

She was convicted of being party to rape, coercion and making threats. Her husband was sentenced to 18 months' jail and the man who married their daughter received 13 years and six months.

While all three deny forcing the girl to have sex, the fact that their supporters defended the underage marriage - a common practice in Mauritania, the United Nations says, despite not being legal there - will feed a debate about how Spain can best integrate its growing migrant population.

"We respect you when you visit our country. Respect us in yours," read one sign held by a group of Mauritanian women outside the Cadiz court, many of them in traditional dress.

Proceedings started when Hawa's Spanish-born daughter, then 14, told authorities that her parents had taken her to Mauritania and forced her to marry a 40-year-old man and have sex with him before they all returned to Spain.

In Spain, she was forced to sleep with him again, she said.

The girl's parents have not yet been jailed while appeals proceed, but the other man has been in custody since 2007.
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The defence lawyer said his clients were innocent of any sexual aggression and that the girl, now 17 and in the care of a Spanish family, had lied about being forced into sex.

"The girl is telling tales," Jose Alvarez said on Wednesday.

"I absolutely maintain the innocence of my three clients," he said, adding that he would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Unease has been growing in Spain about integration of its immigrant community, who account for about a 10th of the population, compared to hardly any at the start of the 1990s.

During the last national elections, in 2008, the conservative opposition Popular Party called for immigrants to be forced to observe Spanish customs, including sexual equality.

More recently, fears over rising unemployment led the Socialist government to offer incentives for immigrants to return home and said it would make it more difficult to obtain residence visas.

The president of an association of Mauritanian immigrants said Spain should respect Mauritanian and Islamic customs but also that people in Spain should obey Spanish law.

"Culture is one thing and the law is another," Cheikh Youba Abdel Kadaer, of the Collective of Mauritanians in Spain, said. - Reuters

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