10 Former Child Brides Tell Their Own Stories — In Photos

Photo: Too Young To Wed
Photographer Stephanie Sinclair has dedicated her career to documenting the practice of child marriage around the world.

From the pages of National Geographic to here at Refinery29, Sinclair's stunning portraits have drawn attention to this widespread issue — it's estimated that every two seconds, a girl is forced into marriage, according to Sinclair's nonprofit, Too Young To Wed.

But Sinclair wondered how putting some of the girls she met behind the lens rather than in front of it could help them tell their own stories.

"The idea was simple: to introduce storytelling through photography as a way to help them better realize their self-worth and the value of their voice. Aside from technical skills, when you teach photography, you are helping students feel confident about themselves and the way they see the world," Sinclair told Refinery29.

"Our goal was to help them understand that what have to say is important, that they are important...We wanted to open their minds and expose them to new possibilities for their own futures," she added.

The first workshop, held in Kenya in January in partnership with the Samburu Girls Foundation and Fujifilm, brought together 10 girls who had escaped forced marriages and were rebuilding their lives. Some had run away when they learned their families planned to marry them off. Others had been forced to marry men five times their age. All are now in school.

The girls were paired up with partners and taught the technical aspects of shooting portraits. They then had the opportunity to practice photographing each other.

"This was the first time the girls had ever picked up a camera, yet the artistry in their photographs was astounding," Sinclair said.

The project did more than produce powerful images. The process of photographing one another became a cathartic exercise for the girls.

"What we didn't anticipate was how much they would share with one another, their traumas related to child marriage and female genital mutilation and circumcision...Unexpectedly, the workshop became a type of art therapy, which is more than I could have ever hoped for from this program," she said.

Bolstered by the success, Too Young To Wed is in the process of organizing a second workshop this fall. Ahead, the girls share their portraits and their powerful stories with Refinery29.

Editor's note: All captions were provided by Too Young To Wed and have been edited for clarity.

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Photo: Stephanie Sinclair/Too Young To Wed
Students try out their cameras for the first time during the inaugural Adolescent Girls Photography Workshop organized by Too Young to Wed in collaboration with the Samburu Girls Foundation in January 2016. All of the students had been rescued from child marriages with help from the Samburu Girls Foundation.
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Photo: Mercy, age 13/Too Young To Wed

"Today was my first day to learn to take someone’s photo. I enjoyed the afternoon because we were asking our friends questions and sharing our stories. Some of our girls were crying because they have never shared their story before.

"Today I learned that a girl can do anything, that a boy and girl are equal, no one is more special, and I am happy about it. I learned how to take someone’s photo by using the light from the window. I learned that I am creative and I can learn fast. I am happy that the new things I learned today is to be confident and be powerful girls."
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Photo: Maria, age 14/Too Young To Wed

“I am at the Samburu Girls Foundation for many problems. One is for early marriage. I could not go to school because my parents were very poor. This made me very sad. I could not say my ABCs, but I knew I was a very bright girl.

"Today, they gave us small things called cameras. Everybody carries them. For the rest of my life, I will not forget this day. When you go to your country, please greet your families and show them our photos."
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Photo: Modestar, age 12/Too Young to Wed

"I was married when I was very young. I used to sell milk to get food and sleep in the forest because I didn't have a place to sleep. Society should stop bad practices because what I have been through was so hard for me. After my education, I would like to be a nurse so that I can help other girls like me."
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Photo: Stephanie Sinclair/Too Young To Wed

Saleno leans in for a close-up shot of Mary during the workshop.
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Photo: Eunice, age 14/Too Young To Wed

"I was rescued by the Samburu Girls Foundation because I was beaded by a Moran (red beads are placed around young girls’ necks signifying ‘engagement’ for sexual purposes only). When I wanted to go to school, my father refused. In the future, I want to be a bank manager, so I can get money and help other girls like me, so I can afford to pay school fees for them."
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Photo: Angela, age 12/Too Young To Wed

"During this week, I came to realize that education can help us build our family and our future."
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Photo: Nicole Chan/Too Young To Wed

Angela learns about light while taking a photo of Naramat, her partner for the workshop.