Why The World Must End Child Marriage — In Photos

Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Sinclair/Too Young to Wed.
This story was originally published on September 18, 2015.

Worldwide, more than 700 million women living today were married before the age of 18; of those, more than one in three women were wed before the age of 15, according to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF). India alone accounts for one third of all child marriages, according to UNICEF. You can read the story of Sonali Khatun, a child bride who fought to get divorced at 14 and became an advocate for girls in her community, here.

Child marriage robs girls of the opportunity to finish their education, and girls who are forced to have children too early are more likely to die during childbirth or suffer serious complications. Girls forced to wed too young are also vulnerable to sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Photographer Stephanie Sinclair has dedicated more than a decade of her life to capturing the faces and voices of these child brides. Over the past 13 years, her work has taken her to places as diverse as India, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Yemen, Nepal, and Ethiopia. Sinclair's goal is to raise awareness about child marriage worldwide through her photographs, as well as to give girls better opportunities through the nonprofit organization she founded, Too Young To Wed.

Sinclair spoke to Refinery29 from her home in New York's Hudson Valley.

Why did you feel documenting child marriage was such an important project to undertake?
"I started this project in 2003. Previously, I was a conflict photographer, and I was covering child marriage while I was working in Afghanistan. I think most people think of child marriage as something that happened generations ago, when people didn't live as long and didn't have the same access to education...most of us think that this isn't still happening — girls being married at very young ages (nine, 10, 11 years old, some of them pre-pubescent).

"But when I was working in Afghanistan, there were several girls throughout the country who were setting themselves on fire; they were attempting suicide. When I went to the hospital to talk to the survivors, I learned that they had been married at very young ages. I felt that I had to make sure that if I was going to cover something so intense, like these suicide attempts, I had to look at the reasons behind them. It wasn't the only reason, but being married very young was a sort of primary common denominator. The girls weren't very articulate, because they were in a lot of pain, but there was this common denominator of why they had done this.

"Then, I realized that this was an issue that was happening worldwide and that was very much still alive. But there were no photographs of it — no visual evidence. So my goal was to provide this evidence. I started in Afghanistan and then traveled to 10 different countries. We see child marriage happening the most in developing countries, but we also have child marriage in the U.S. and in Europe — not in high numbers, but it exists."

Too Young To Wed is also selling Sinclair's prints to help support programs for girls around the world.

Photo caption:
“Whenever I saw him, I hid. I hated to see him,” Tehani (in pink) recalls of the early days of her marriage to Majed, when she was six and he was 25. The young wife posed for a portrait with former classmate Ghada, also a child bride, outside their home in Hajjah, Yemen.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that one in three women alive today were married before the age of 15. It is in fact one in three women of the 700 million who were married before the age of 18, according to UNICEF.