As of today, some 750 million girls and women around the world were married before the age of 18, according to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Child marriage is considered a human rights violation, since it's a major obstacle to sustainable development across the world. The highest rates of child marriage is found in sub-Saharan Africa.
The practice disproportionately impacts girls, though boys are also affected at a lesser degree. According to experts, the practice worsens the cycle of poverty for child brides, blocks them from obtaining an education, and exposes them to many health-related risks as girls who are forced to have children at an early age are more likely to die or face severe complications during childbirth. They're also more vulnerable to sexual violence and domestic abuse than those who are not forced to wed at a young age.
Over the last 15 years, Pulitzer prize winning photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair has made it her mission to document the experiences of young girls forced into marriages in order to give them a voice. She also founded the non-profit organization Too Young To Wed, which aims to protect girls' rights and end child marriage. As part of the organization's grassroots efforts, they help provide child brides with new opportunities, including offering scholarships so they can pursue an education and helping them attend female empowerment photography workshops.
"I've been most moved by the resilience of these girls. I've met hundreds at this point. They just say — every single one of them, almost without fail, no matter what they've been through — they just say: 'I want to go back to school'," Sinclair told Refinery29. "That's why we're doing what we're doing. We need to empower individual girls, because as it happens, they will have an impact in their communities and that's how change will happen."
Too Young to Wed's Tehani Photo Workshop was named after Tehani, an eight-year-old child bride in Yemen who was unable to escape her marriage. This year, with Canon's support, 18 teen girls who escaped their marriages were brought together for the workshop in Kenya. Through assistance from the Samburu Girls Foundation and Too Young to Wed, the girls are now pursuing their education.
Ahead, a selection of photographs the girls took of each other during Too Young to Wed's workshop. It provides an intimate look at their feelings on being married as children.
Too Young To Wed is holding a print sale until Tuesday November 28th to benefit communities impacted by child marriage. All proceeds will go to grassroots efforts and workshops. You can check the sale out here.
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Monicah, 12, is photographed by Mercy, 14, reenacting her former life as a child bride in Malasso, Kenya. Earlier that day, the workshop van became briefly disabled in the deep mud banks. Mercy wrote in her journal that night, "When our car was stuck in the mud, people came and helped us. I realized that unity is strength."
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Eunice, 15, as photographed by Rosilla, 15, at the Ngari Hill EcoLodge in Maralal, Kenya. “I am now happy since I have known the story of the girls I was staying with,” wrote Rosilla in her workshop journal. “This has really helped me and encouraged me since I can could be open to my fellow girls and share my life story with them.”
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Nachaki, 15, photographed by Immaculate, 15, at the Ngari Hill EcoLodge in Maralal, Kenya. "When I arrived at this place I was a bit afraid, but I learned that I can express myself without any fear," wrote Immaculate in her workshop journal. "Thing most important thing I learned is that 'Girls Can Do Anything!'"
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Jane, 15, was a student mentor during this yearís workshop. Here, she is photographed by Anita, 15, at the Ngari Hill EcoLodge in Maralal, Kenya. Anita shared the meaning behind this photograph at the community exhibition at the end of the workshop: “She is displaying her happiness, thinking ‘I can now continue with my life!’”
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Anita, 15, at the Ngari Hill EcoLodge in Maralal, Kenya. The photographer, Monicah, 12, had never used a camera before that day. "When I was ten, my father married me off," Anita said in an interview. "When the morning came, I was circumcised. He beat me when I was not fully healed. I would like to say to the parents they should educate all the children. They should not discriminate between a boy and girl because boys and girls are equal."