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Surita wailed in protest on the day of her wedding, as her family carried her in a cart to the home of her groom. She was only 16.

photo: Stephanie Sinclair/ VII ©2012

Destaye, 11, stood stoically during her wedding portrait, her eyes fixed on the ground. And Tehani, just 6, simply trembled at the sight of her new husband.

The stories of these girls and dozens of other child brides form the heart of Too Young To Wed, a multimedia exhibit opening at the United Nations on Oct. 11, 2012, the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child.

The show, which runs through Nov. 29 in the UN lobby, is a partnership between the premier photo agency VII and the UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The team behind Too Young To Wed hopes the project raises awareness about child marriage, helps girls who are already married and ultimately, leads to policies that end the practice forever.

VII photographer Stephanie Sinclair has documented child marriages in Yemen, India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Ethiopia over the last decade, and her images make up the bulk of the exhibit, which will ultimately travel internationally.

Sinclair was present when Destaye married Addisu, an Orthodox Ethiopian priest, four years ago. She visited the couple two years later and again this August. Only this time, Sinclair was accompanied by VII photographer Jessica Dimmock, who shot video of the couple and is the other half of Too Young To Wed’s creative team.

“This is a very intimate story. We were basically doing the majority of the shoot in their house. It was even more important to have a sensitive person with me to do this because there’s not a lot of room in there,” said Sinclair. “I was still taking photographs and she was shooting video, and we had to let each other do the work we needed to do and, at the same time, not have them feel uncomfortable.”

Sinclair and Dimmock had never worked together before, but their collaboration in Ethiopia produced one of the exhibit’s most moving pieces, a film that shows all too clearly how childhoods—and bright futures—are lost to child marriage. Sinclair had this to say about the experience:

 I wanted Jessica to join me in my ongoing project on child marriage because I knew she had the sensitivity and compassion to make Destaye and Addisu feel comfortable, and the eye to create a subtle yet beautiful short documentary of their life together. 

And she fit right in. They welcomed her openly, and they could tell that her interest in documenting their lives came from a good place and that she, like myself, wanted to help raise awareness of the complexities of this issue.

Destaye is one of the now more than 67 million girls around the world who were married as children. These girls have not only had their educations halted too soon but are children raising children. They are in need of support so they can continue their educations, or at least have support in providing additional income to their families, which will in turn give them a stronger voice in their families and home lives. This will not only ensure that they are more protected but that they can better protect their children from harm. 

I look forward to the next several assignments Jess and I will share on this topic, and bringing love and respect to the highly sensitive issue of child marriage. Stay tuned! 

photo: Stephanie Sinclair/ VII ©2012
Jessica Dimmock films Addisu (center) and Destaye in Ethiopia this summer.

Through her extensive documentary work on the human condition, Dimmock has explored everything from child labor in the Ivory Coast’s chocolate industry to the struggle for clean drinking water in New Delhi, India. But she had this to say about her first foray into the world of child marriage.

I have deeply admired Stephanie’s work since we first met and have felt honored to work with her on her project on child marriage, understanding that it is the project arguably most close to her heart.  When we first rolled up to the home of Destaye and Addisu, the effort that she has put into following many young women’s stories was apparent on the smiling and excited faces of this young couple. To say that they were overjoyed to see her would be an understatement, and they treated me as though I was her sister, which I took as the highest compliment. 

After long days of shooting, one would think that the last thing either of us would want to talk about upon returning to the hotel was Destaye’s situation, or the predicament of many young girls who share her story. But Stephanie’s dedication and commitment is contagious, and we often found ourselves hashing it out over dinner, discussing the subtleties of the story and what it meant to be a young woman in this situation. I often went to bed more inspired than when I had woken up.

This was the first of three stories we will execute about this issue, and I’m eager to share the next parts of our collaboration!

Visitors to the UN can view the Too Young To Wed exhibit daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

Sinclair said she hopes that after visitors have seen the work, they’ll feel compelled to raise awareness on their own and take action to help end child marriage.

“I want them to not see it as our work but to see it as the voices and lives of these girls and boys who are in this situation—to walk away kind of having a sense of what this is like for all these children married each year.”