By Gabriella Gillespie, child marriage survivor and member of Too Young to Wed’s Board of Advisers
When I first came across Stephanie Sinclair’s pictures a few years ago, my heart slowed down for a moment; it was as though I was reliving old memories, memories I didn’t want to remember.
Now I can look at Steph’s photos and see both the beauty and pain she captures in her pictures. I see the beauty within certain traditions and cultures of marriage, but mostly, I see the pain and harm that comes from the barbaric practice that is child/forced marriage.
Stephanie’s work not only shows us how so many different countries around the world still practice child/forced marriage today, but also the horrendous consequences facing those of us who have lived through it, or are still living through it at this very moment in time. Without the help of nonprofits like Too Young to Wed, more and more girls will be left to grow up in a lifetime of abuse. Child marriage is one of the worse Human Rights Violations facing young girls in the world today.
I know only too well about child marriage and the scars it leaves behind. In 1977, my sisters and I were taken from our home in the UK to Yemen by our father. Once there, we were all sold as child brides. I was barely 13 years old. Soon after my marriage, I became a Mother.
Child brides go through so much abuse; they are tortured on a daily basis. I use the word torture because that’s how I felt when I woke up every morning knowing that the day ahead would be full of abuse.
I lost one of my sisters to suicide in Yemen. Her name was Izzy, and the thought of living a lifetime of abuse became too much for her when my father sold her to a 60-year-old man. She committed suicide on her wedding day.
I witnessed very little girls become child brides and mothers. Almost every girl in the rural village where I lived was married around the same age as I was, even younger. It was difficult to know their ages because they had no birth certificates, so no one knew how old they were.
There were almost no schools in the villages for them to learn, and the few schools that existed only allowed boys to attend. How are girls able to learn and thrive in life if they are not allowed to attend school?
Growing up, the village’s girls didn’t know about reproductive health. They had absolutely no clue what a period was or what was happening to their bodies. Their first night as a child bride is the most terrifying experience of their lives because they have no clue what will happen to them; they know nothing about sex or what happens between men and women. Almost every girl is raped on her first night of marriage, and this continues throughout the marriage.
I was lucky. I managed to escape with my five children thanks to the help of the British Embassy in 1992. There were no organizations around to help us in Yemen back when we were child brides, but I know I’m forever grateful to those who helped me escape Yemen and my marriage. If I hadn’t escaped, I have no doubt I would be dead right now!
Some may think that because I was a child bride 20-odd years ago, things have improved and this practice no longer exists, but all we need to do is look at Stephanie’s photos to know otherwise.
My heart breaks every time I see another picture of a child bride, read another story or see the statistics on child/forced marriage. However, I also have tremendous hope when I see people like Stephanie who go far and beyond to help those who cannot help themselves.
Not everyone can go out in the field and campaign or give their time to fight this cause, even if they really wanted to, but there are other ways you can help.
Stephanie is having a print sale of her invaluable photos. If you are able to buy one, the money will go to a good cause: helping child brides. I can tell you on their behalf that they will be forever grateful.
WAYS TO HELP
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