Police in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia have intervened to prevent the forced marriage of a 13-year-old girl belonging to a Muslim immigrant family from Morocco.

The girl was one of nine reported victims of forced marriage in Catalonia during the first six months of 2012. Seven of the reported cases involved minors, but in several instances when police were alerted, they were unable to intervene in time to prevent the marriages from taking place.

Catalan police, known locally as Mossos d’Esquadra, have reported a cumulative total of more than 50 forced marriages involving minors since the regional government began compiling official data in 2009. Police, however, say this figure represents only “the tip of the iceberg”; many victims are unaware of their rights and most of the cases go unreported.

The issue of forced marriage is especially acute in Catalonia, where the Muslim population has skyrocketed in recent years. Catalonia, a region with 7.5 million inhabitants, is now home to an estimated 400,000 Muslims, up from 30,000 in the 1980s.

The Muslim population in many Catalan towns and cities now exceeds 20%; and the town of Salt, near Barcelona, where Muslim immigrants now make up 40% of the population, has been dubbed the “new Mecca of the most radical Islamism” because of efforts by Muslims to enforce Islamic Sharia law there.

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