UNICEF, December 22, 2007
UNICEF Photo of the Year: Child bride in Afghanistan
"We needed the money", Ghulam's parents said
The American photographer Stephanie Sinclair is the winner of the international photo competition "UNICEF Photo of the Year". Her photo shows a wedding couple in Afghanistan who could not be more opposite. The groom, Mohammed, looks much older than his 40 years. The bride, Ghulam, is still a child; she just turned 11. "The UNICEF Photo of the Year 2007 raises awareness about a worldwide problem. Millions of girls are married while they are still under age. Most of theses child brides are forever denied a self-determined life", says UNICEF Patroness Eva Luise Köhler at the award ceremony in Berlin. According to UNICEF, there are about 60 million young women worldwide who were married before they came of age, half of them in South Asia.
He's forty, she's eleven. And they are a couple – the Afghan man Mohammed F.* and the child Ghulam H.*. "We needed the money", Ghulam's parents said. Faiz claims he is going to send her to school. But the women of Damarda village in Afghanistan's Ghor province know better: "Our men don't want educated women." They predict that Ghulam will be married within a few weeks after her engagement in 2006, so as to bear children for Faiz.
During her stay in Afghanistan, it consistently struck American photographer Stephanie Sinclair how many young girls are married to much older men. She decided to raise awareness about this topic with her pictures. Particularly as the official minimum age for brides in Afghanistan is sixteen and it is therefore illegal to marry children.
Early marriages are not only a problem in Afghanistan: worldwide there are about 51 million girls aged between 15 and 19 years who are forced into marriage. The youngest brides live in the Indian state of Rajasthan, where 15% of all wives are not even 10 years old when they are married. Child marriages are a reaction to extreme poverty and mainly take place in Asian and African regions where poor families see their daughters as a burden and as second-class citizens. Already in their younger years, girls are given into the "care" of a husband, a tradition that often leads to exploitation. Many girls become victims of domestic violence. In an Egyptian survey, about one-third of the interviewed child brides stated that they were beaten by their husbands. The young brides are under pressure to prove their fertility as soon as possible. But the risk for girls between the ages of 10 and 14 not to survive pregnancy is five times higher than for adult women. Every year, about 150,000 pregnant teenagers die due to complications – in particular due to a lack of medical care, let alone sex education.
For her project, Stephanie Sinclair also traveled to Nepal and Ethiopia. She wants to do research on the topic of child marriage in other regions as well and then publish a book on the issue.
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