From the Series
It is estimated that there will be 142 million more child brides in the next decade. These children, often forced to marry before puberty, are virtually cut-off from their family and friends, forced to abandon their education, and left vulnerable to poverty and abuse. To lend visual evidence to the haunting stories told by child brides, photographer Stephanie Sinclair created “Too Young To Wed”, a travelling photo series that forms the centrepiece of a greater effort to liberate child brides in countries around the world.
In 2003, Sinclair travelled to Herat, Afghanistan where she worked on a story about women and girls who set themselves on fire. She discovered a disturbing pattern among the victims: most of them had been forced into marriage as children. Sinclair went on to dedicate the next 10 years of her life to uncovering the horrors faced by girls who were unable to escape this destructive tradition.
At the age of 6, Tehani was married to a 25-year-old man. Around 8-years-old in this picture, she recalls how much she “hated to see him” when they were first married. She is posed here in a pink dress with her husband and her school friend Ghada, also a child bride. Child brides are a common practice in Yemen.
Ghulam poses with her 40-year-old husband after their wedding. In Afghan villages, girls are often seen as extra mouths to feed until they’re married. There is also intense social pressure to sell girls into marriage before the legal age of 16. A girl who dates boys before marriage brings shame on the family.
Chosen by a 23-year-old priest, Destaye was married in a tradition Ethiopian Orthodox wedding at the age of 11. The community said Destaye’s husband’s position as priest meant his bride had to be a virgin.
Yemeni teenager, 14-year-old Asia, washes her newborn baby while her 2-year old daughter plays nearby. She is still bleeding and sick from childbirth, but she does not have the proper resources or knowledge to take care of her physical and mental health.
An abandoned former child bride, Ethiopian mother Agere, 32, breastfeeds her two HIV Positive children. She contracted HIV from her husband when she was married to him at the age of 12. She continues to breastfeed her children because she cannot afford to buy uninfected milk.
Debitu escaped her abusive marriage at the age of 14. She is now homeless, seven months pregnant and uncertain of her future.
Marzia and Rokhshana
To escape the violence, isolation, abuse, and uncertainty, child brides turn to the most desperate form of escape: self-immolation. Over 140 cases of self-immolation among women were reported in Afghanistan in 2010, resulting in 75 deaths. In the image above, a rose is held to a woman's mouth as she fights to stay alive. Rokhshana set herself on fire because her husband, who had left 14 years earlier, demanded that she be returned to him. In a similar tragedy, terrified of what her husband’s reaction would be after she broke the family television, 15-year-old Marzia set herself on fire. She had been married off at the age of 9.
Sinclair’s initiative is currently still travelling the world in the hopes that it can raise awareness about the atrocities inflicted on child brides who are stripped of agency in their lives. “By increasing the visibility of child marriage, we hope to provoke thoughtful dialogue and action to end this practice and eradicate its consequences,” she says.