Too Young to Wed: Exhibit Exposes Plight of Child Brides

January 23, 2014 Updated: March 17, 2014

NEW YORK—A young woman in Afghanistan, Jamila, 15, was stabbed by her husband because she visited her mother without permission.

For her own safety, a girl in Yemen, Tehani, had to hide from her husband, Majed. They got married when she was only 6 and he was 25 years old.

A powerful exhibit that opened on Jan. 19 in the Bronx Documentary Center, Too Young to Wed, exposes the experiences of underage brides whose lives are often under threat. It’s a widespread phenomenon across the world.

Pulitzer Prize and World Press Photo Award winner Stephanie Sinclair started working on the project in 2003, when she was in Afghanistan. She was working as a photojournalist in the burn ward of a hospital in Herat where she encountered young girls who were setting themselves on fire. She discovered that for many the reason for their self-immolation was underage marriage.

Since then she has captured experiences of young brides in Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Yemen, and even in the United States.

Her dedication to the project was triggered when she spent time with Mejgon, a girl who was sold by her drug-addicted father at the age of 11. Mejgon’s husband raped and abused her.

Sinclair remembered Mejgon saying, “In my whole life, I have never felt love,” while she tried to comfort the girl.

Child marriage happens among poor families not able to feed all of their children. Parents marry off their daughters to make alliances or for settling debts.

According to the International Center for Research on Women, 1 in 9 girls around the world marry at an age younger than 15, and in 2010, 67 million 20- to 24-year-old women had married before the age of 18.

“The subject is extremely disturbing, but is also beautifully shot,” said Michael Kamber, founder and director of the Bronx Documentary Center. “There’s a tension between the beauty and the disturbance,” he added.

Sinclair, a resident of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, feels that as a photojournalist it is her responsibility to raise awareness of the issue.

“It doesn’t matter so much what tool you have,” she said. “Photographing from our heart is the most important part.”

The exhibit is on until March 30 at the Bronx Documentary Center, 614 Courtlandt Avenue, New York, N.Y., 10451. T: 718-993-3512 E: – Entry is Free.

Follow Jane on Twitter: @itsjanewriting