Photojournalist Helps Child Marriage Survivors Document Their Lives Through The Lens

Child marriage. Two words that should never ever be put together in a sentence, yet each year more than 15 million girls globally under the age of 18 are forced to get married. According to UNICEF, over 700 million women alive today were married before the age of 18, and roughly 250 million before 15. The most common areas this awful practice occurs are Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The need for cultural re-education about the dangers of child marriage are important. For many families in poverty in the developing world, young girls are married off so that they can no longer become an economic burden on her parents. However, studies show that when girls are able to delay marriage and get an education, they are more likely to become financially stable and potentially break a generational cycle of poverty.

While raising awareness is indeed key, there is something to be said about re-shaping narratives about the youth most affected by this practice. We often read news stories and in-depth articles about the dangers of child marriage, but hearing the voices of the girls themselves can be a powerful witness as to why this is an issue worth caring about.

Anita, 15, leans against a tree overlooking the Rift Valley during @tooyoungtowed’s second Tehani Photo Workshop in northern Kenya. • Today is the last day of our print sale where 100 % of proceeds from the sale of these beautiful, hand-printed 8.5×11 archival pigment prints by Kenyan child marriage survivors and myself will go to directly support @tooyoungtowed’s important work in communities affected by child marriage. Purchase these works of art today at TOOYOUNGTOWED.ORG/PRINTSALE Anita was rescued from her marriage by our partner organization @samburugirlsfdn. #girls #girlpower #letgirlslearn #tooyoungtowed #endchildmarriage #color #inspiration #empowerment #kenya #givingtuesday #givingtuesday2017

A post shared by Too Young to Wed (@tooyoungtowed) on

One woman who is on a mission to help elevate these girls’ voices is photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair, who has been documenting victims of child marriage for a number of years. For a decade, she had traveled around the world to countries such as Afghanistan, learning about the horrific measures some young women would go to in order to escape child marriage, including setting themselves on fire. In 2012, after the launch of the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl celebration on October 11, Stephanie launched a non-profit organization called Too Young To Wed, and joined forced with the UN Population Fund, as well as other organizations, to raise awareness.

She created a traveling exhibit of photos from her journalistic work in countries such as India, Nepal, Yemen, Ethiopia, and even the United States (where it is legal in all 50 states), which becomes a visible reminder that child marriage is not just some abstract monolithic issue, but one that affects the lives of real women and girls who all have a story to share.

Too Young To Wed also aims to help girls envision a future with potential by teaming up with their non-profit partners in order to help them develop skills, get educated, and break the cycle of poverty. One of their most recent initiatives, in partnership with The Samburu Girls Foundation in Kenya, was called the Tehani Photo Workshop (named after an 8-year-old Yemeni bride), where the girls involved get to be both behind and in front of the camera, sharing their stories and experiences with child marriage.

In a sense, this workshop empowers them to have autonomy over their narratives and learn creative ways of sharing it with the world. At the end of the workshop, a community exhibit is set up where the girls get to engage with people and tell them more about their lives. In an interview with the New York Times, Stephanie explains how giving the girls a chance to have power over the way they shape their stories through the camera lens offers unique insight into this issue.

Sisters Yagana, 21, Yakaka, 19 and Falimata, 14, were all abducted and held captive by Boko Haram until their escape. “After invading Bama, the Boko Haram insurgents came to my house, one of them saw me and said, ‘I want to marry you,’” Yakaka told me a year ago. “I said, ‘My parents will not give me to you. Then he said, ‘O.K., that is easy. Let me kill them, so that you will now be the one to decide.’ We got married in the Sambisa forest. Three months later, my husband was killed. I was pregnant by that point.” ————————— FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY you can purchase an 8.5×11 signed print of THIS IMAGE by visiting www.TOOYOUNGTOWED.ORG/PRINTSALE. @tooyoungtowed is currently supports about 75 scholarships for vulnerable girls in the villages where our images are made – including the tuition for all of the girls featured in this story. We also host girl empowerment photography workshops that help vulnerable girls gain the skills to become budding photojournalists, learn tools to manage their trauma and express themselves, advocate for the rights of girls’ and become mentors to subsequent workshop participants. #tooyoungotwed #printsale #bringbackallourgirls #nigeria #girls #letgirlslearn

A post shared by Too Young to Wed (@tooyoungtowed) on

“A lot of the photographs they’ve taken speak to the different moments in their lives. Many, this year, even re-enacted what happened to them. We didn’t tell them to do this,” she told reporter Laurence Butet-Roch.

One girl named Jackline posed in her school uniform while holding out a beaded necklace, indicating how beading (a tradition where girls adorned with red beads have to serve the needs of an older male relative) interrupts education. Another girl posed while sitting in a tree, showing where she and a number of other girls would sleep in order to stay away from wild animals during the night, while escaping a child marriage situation.

Stephanie says photography is the type of skill that can help teach the girls freedom and autonomy in a way that other professions may not be able to.

“The independence that comes with a such a career, the knowledge you acquire through meeting other people, and the freedom the camera gives you to express yourself can’t be underplayed. Instinctively, I knew that a photo workshop could nurture the girls in a unique way,” she said.

Along with the photography assignment, girls in the workshop use the images to discuss the place of women in society and their value. Each photo of the girls in the series is taken by another girl participating in The Tehani Workshop program, which you can see on Too Young To Wed’s Instagram account, or on their website where you can purchase the prints.

“It’s not just the act of photography that helps; it’s bringing together girls who have all experienced a similar type of trauma for what really is a retreat, a time to be nurtured, to grow, and to build community,” said Stephanie.

The photo journalist plans to continue the workshops and expand into other areas, but emphasizes how the intimate settings and interactions are what makes it a success in the girls’ lives. The more they are empowered to have strong connections to their communities outside of their families, giving them the confidence they need to protect themselves.

“They say that every girl who is empowered impacts at least 250 people in her community. Though we’ve only had 22 students so far, slowly those number add up,” said Stephanie.

We’ve embedded some of our favorite images from the series in the article, but be sure to follow Too Young To Wed on Instagram, and learn more about the organization, the issue of child marriage, and Stephanie herself on the website.




One Comment

  1. Pingback: A Teen Girl From Bangladesh Shares Her Harrowing Experience Being Forced Into An Early Marriage - GirlTalkHQ

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.