One by one, Tehani ticked off the things she loved about school.
Sitting in chairs—she had none in her home in rural Yemen.
The chalk the teacher used.
Studying the holy Quran and learning about math.
“I was in love with school,” she wistfully told VII photographer Stephanie Sinclair, who interviewed Tehani in July 2010 through a translator.
At the time of the interview, Tehani hadn’t been in a classroom in two years.
You see, Tehani was married at the age of 6, effectively halting her formal education.
The groom was 25.
When Sinclair met her two years later, Tehani spent her days cooking, washing clothes, cleaning her home and collecting fresh water.
“I think girls should be older when they get married,” she told Sinclair. “It’s more beautiful. When she is small and married it is bad. When she is older … beautiful.”
Sadly, Tehani’s story is not an isolated one. One in three girls in the developing world (excluding China) is married before she turns 18, often to a man considerably older than she is and often without any say in the matter. The results can be devastating: Child brides are often removed from school, limiting their options for the future and the economic benefits they can provide their families. Early pregnancies put them and their children at much greater risk of death or disability. And social isolation exposes them to the potential for abuse, including sexual violence.
The profound negative consequences associated with child marriage impact not just the girls, but also their entire communities. Too Young to Wed, a partnership between premier photo agency VII and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), seeks to raise awareness about child marriage, help girls who are already married and ultimately, to end the practice forever.
The campaign’s timing is no accident.
It begins only a few weeks before the first International Day of the Girl Child, 11 October 2012. That day also marks the opening of Too Young to Wed’s extensive photo and video exhibit on child marriage in the lobby of the United Nations. The work by VII photographers Stephanie Sinclair and Jessica Dimmock spans the globe and, in Sinclair’s case, nearly a decade of documentary reporting.
The venue is no accident either.
The effort to end child marriage fits perfectly within the UNFPA’s core mission: delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, where every childbirth is safe and where every young person’s potential is fulfilled. Ending the practice of child marriage is key to achieving those goals, according to the agency’s executive director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, who himself has four daughters.
“When a girl gets an education, has the power to delay her first pregnancy, and is healthy and equipped with the right skills and opportunities, she holds the key to unlocking many of the world’s most pressing problems: reducing maternal and child death, halting the spread of HIV, breaking the cycle of poverty, advancing gender equality and propelling countries’ social and economic development,” he said in an April piece for the Huffington Post. “As educated mothers, they will invest in the health, education and success of the next generation. As leaders of both today and tomorrow, they can be a force for social cohesion, progress and peace.”
Thankfully, Too Young To Wed is not alone in its efforts. We’ll use this blog to introduce you to humanitarian organizations, activists, policymakers, community leaders and even young girls who are working to protect girls’ rights and halt the practice.
We urge you to follow our Facebook page and Twitter account, @2young2wed, where we’ll update you on the progress being made and how you can be part of the solution. And we hope you’ll invite your friends and family to join our campaign as well, to advocate for girls like Tehani. Protect girls’ rights. End child marriage.