Concern grows over bride, aged 13

CLARE GARNER

Turkish embassy officials said the marriage of a 13-year-old girl who dropped out of school to marry a Turkish waiter she met on a family holiday was illegal. The girl's 18-year-old "husband" could now face prosecution for having "under age" sex with her.

The official said couples could not normally marry until they were 18. With parental consent, the age limit was 17 for boys and 15 for girls.

In "very extraordinary cases", and with a judge's permission, girls could marry at 14 and have sex below the normal age of consent, which was 18. But Sarah was too young for such a ruling and her "husband" could be charged with having sex with a girl under the legal age.

Concern for the girl's welfare was growing last night, as her parents stood by their daughter's decision.

Sarah Cook, from Braintree, Essex, fell for Musa Kumeagae, 18, when she was just 12. She underwent a Turkish religious marriage ceremony attended by her parents, Adrian, 42, and Jackie, 39, two weeks ago. She is now living in Kahramanmaras, a remote town in south- eastern Turkey.

Last night she was reported to be looking forward to becoming pregnant: "We plan to start a family very soon. I really want a baby."

Essex social services have asked Sarah's parents to discuss the situation at a meeting today. Colin Davis, a social services spokesman, said: "That's all we can hope to do. The Foreign Office has advised us that while Sarah is in Turkey there is nothing we can do because she is there with parental consent. That's the situation we are faced with."

Richard Snelling, headmaster of Tabor High School, in Braintree, which Sarah used to attend, said yesterday: "We are talking about a very young girl. She's only just 13. She has four years of education ahead of her in England, so it's a real concern." He stressed that the 850-pupil school would welcome Sarah back at the first opportunity. "We would very much like that to happen but it doesn't look very likely at the moment," he added.

Mr Snelling became worried about Sarah last November when she failed to return to school after spending half-term in Turkey. "We alerted the education welfare office and, in turn, the social services, and they then took the issue up and dealt with the parents. From that point, Sarah did not come back to school," he said.

Sarah was taken off the school roll by the local education authority after her parents said she would receive schooling abroad. But Mr Snelling said yesterday he believed she was not being taught in Turkey.

Mr Kumeagae reportedly worked as a waiter in the hotel in where the family stayed last summer. He is believed to have proposed to Sarah while she was still 12, after a three-day fling in the Mediterranean resort of Elanya.

Mrs Cook told the Sun newspaper that she and her husband had been powerless to stop their "strong-willed" daughter falling in love. "I don't care what people think about her marrying - because she is loved and happy," she reportedly said. "If I hadn't taken her back to Turkey she would have found a way to get there herself - and we might have lost our little girl forever."

A spokesman for Essex police confirmed that they were holding a meeting later in the week to decide if any offences had been committed. "Obviously we are looking at under-age sex," he said. "But these offences took place in Turkey so are effectively out of our jurisdiction. We've got the other issue of a 13-year-old not attending school. There is a legal requirement for a child to attend school unless the parents can prove that adequate educational provision is being provided elsewhere."

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