Tag Archives: child marriage

18 Friday, September 2015

Child marriage survivor pens poignant letter

Uzma, 4, learns how to write the alphabet at a school in Meerwala, Pakistan. Child brides often lose their opportunity for an education, but Too Young to Wed supports initiatives to end child marriage and keep girls in school. --- Stephanie Sinclair
Uzma, 4, learns how to write the alphabet at a school in Meerwala, Pakistan. Child brides often lose their opportunity for an education, but Too Young to Wed supports initiatives to end child marriage and keep girls in school. This image is one of three included in the nonprofit’s first print sale, which runs through Sept. 20. All proceeds support programs aimed at ending child marriage and assisting child brides.
— Stephanie Sinclair

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!

 British-born Gabriella Gillespie, far left, was 13 when her father took her and her sisters from their home in Wales to his native Yemen for what he called a "vacation." One by one, he sold his daughters into marriage. Gillespie endured 17 years of abuse and heartache, fleeing back to England with her five children only after her husband announced plans to marry off their oldest daughter, who was still a child.
British-born Gabriella Gillespie, far left, was 13 when her father took her and her sisters from their home in Wales to his native Yemen for what he called a “vacation.” One by one, he sold his daughters into marriage. Gillespie endured 17 years of abuse and heartache, fleeing back to England with her five children only after her husband announced plans to marry off their oldest daughter, who was still a child.

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.

Gabriella Gillespie

Gabriella Gillespie is a member of Too Young to Wed's Board of Advisers and the author of "A Father's Betrayal," a memoir about her experiences as a child bride.
Gabriella Gillespie is a member of Too Young to Wed’s Board of Advisers and the author of “A Father’s Betrayal,” a memoir about her experiences as a child bride.

WAYS TO HELP

Purchase a print during this limited time: Visit tooyoungtowed.org/printsale to support our programming

Share information about Too Young to Wed and the print sale on social media and follow us there:
Twitter: @2young2wed
Instagram: @tooyoungtowed
Facebook: facebook.com/tooyoungtowed
Hashtags: #endchildmarriage #tooyoungtowed

Volunteer: Share your skills and collaborate with TYTW. For opportunities email info@tooyoungtowed.org

Too Young To Wed is a nonprofit organization qualified for tax-exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Each contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

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13 Sunday, September 2015

TYTW’s inaugural print sale to benefit child brides

A woman tends to grain during the rainy season near Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Not far from here is the village of Gombat, where Stephanie Sinclair first photographed Destaye, married at age 11. Proceeds from Too Young to Wed's inaugural print sale will support an initiative there to empower adolescent girls as well as other programs aimed at preventing child marriage and helping child brides. --- Stephanie Sinclair
A woman tends to grain during the rainy season near Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. Not far from here is the village of Gombat, where Stephanie Sinclair first photographed Destaye, married at age 11. Proceeds from Too Young to Wed’s inaugural print sale will support an initiative there to empower adolescent girls as well as other programs aimed at preventing child marriage and helping child brides.
— Stephanie Sinclair

In collaboration with Photoville, New York City’s largest annual photo festival, Too Young to Wed (TYTW) will host its first print sale, featuring images by our Founder and Executive Director Stephanie Sinclair.

Each 8×10 archival print was hand-printed and signed by Ms. Sinclair, whose award-winning work documenting child marriage has been exhibited around the world. Ms. Sinclair’s work will be featured at Photoville at Brooklyn Bridge Park, and like the premiere photo event, which attracted 71,000 visitors last year, the print sale will run from Sept. 10 – 20, 2015.

Prints can be ordered for $100 at tooyoungtowed.org/printsale, and 100 percent of the contributions received from photo sales will directly support TYTW’s mission to protect girls’ rights and end child marriage. Too Young to Wed supports local organizations and persons making a difference in the lives of girls and boys who are affected by the harmful practice of child marriage such as:

The Samburu Girls Foundation, a grassroots organization in rural Kenya, which provides shelter and education to girls rescued from child marriage, female genital mutilation and other harmful practices. To date, the organization has rescued more than 200 girls and placed 125 of them in boarding school.

The women and children of the Kagati Village in Nepal where Ms. Sinclair conducted much of her child marriage reporting in 2007 and an area that was destroyed in the recent earthquakes. Child bride Niruta, photographed at age 13 by Ms. Sinclair, lives here with her three children.

Girl Empowerment Groups – an adolescent girls empowerment initiative designed by the Population Council for vulnerable girls living in rural areas. In this capacity, Too Young To Wed will support the village of Gombat, just outside of Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, where Ms. Sinclair first photographed Destaye, who was married at 11 to an Ethiopian Orthodox priest.

Young girls sit inside a home outside of Al Hudaydah, Yemen. Proceeds from images like this one will benefit programs designed to prevent child marriage and aid child brides. --- Stephanie Sinclair
Young girls sit inside a home outside of Al Hudaydah, Yemen. Proceeds from images like this one will benefit programs designed to prevent child marriage and aid child brides.
— Stephanie Sinclair

Photoville Presentations and Talks:

Sept 17: TYTW will engage students during Photoville’s Education Day, a one-day field trip to the photo village that’s free and open to NYC public schools. Hundreds of middle school and high school students participate in a day of photography and storytelling activities, and they’ll have an opportunity to see how photography can bring about social change.

Sept. 19: Stephanie Sinclair discusses her Too Young to Wed photographs during the event An Evening with National Geographic, from 7-10pm at the Photoville Beer Garden. The evening will begin with photos and videos from the past 127 years—including the most recent stories from National Geographic and their digital platforms. Other photographers included are Katie Orlinsky, Robert Clark and David Guttenfelder with Director of Photography Sarah Leen serving as Master of Ceremonies.

TYTW’s Mission: Every two seconds, a girl is forced into marriage against her will. The younger she is, the more likely a child bride is to experience domestic violence, contract HIV, develop complications from pregnancies or even die during childbirth. Child marriage robs girls of the childhood and the education they deserve, silencing them and preventing them from achieving their fullest potential.

Uzma, 4, learns how to write the alphabet at a school in Meerwala, Pakistan. Child brides often lose their opportunity for an education, but Too Young to Wed supports initiatives to end child marriage and keep girls in school. --- Stephanie Sinclair
Uzma, 4, learns how to write the alphabet at a school in Meerwala, Pakistan. Child brides often lose their opportunity for an education, but Too Young to Wed supports initiatives to end child marriage and keep girls in school.
— Stephanie Sinclair

Too Young to Wed’s mission is to protect girls’ rights and end child marriage. We do this by providing visual evidence of the human rights challenges faced by women and girls. Through our storytelling, we generate attention and resources to amplify the voices of these courageous women and girls and inspire the global community to end child marriage. We transform influential advocacy into tangible action on the ground through partnerships with international and local NGOs and by supporting initiatives in the communities where the girls in our stories live.

WAYS TO HELP

Purchase a print during this limited time: Visit tooyoungtowed.org/printsale to support our programming

Share information about Too Young to Wed and the print sale on social media and follow us there:
Twitter: @2young2wed
Instagram: @tooyoungtowed
Facebook: facebook.com/tooyoungtowed
Hashtags: #endchildmarriage #tooyoungtowed

Volunteer: Share your skills and collaborate with TYTW. For opportunities email info@tooyoungtowed.org

Too Young To Wed is a nonprofit organization qualified for tax-exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Each contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

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6 Monday, April 2015

‘I want their voice to be heard’

Farah Ahmed is a senior at the American University of Sharjah and an advocate for child brides.
Farah Ahmed is a senior at the American University of Sharjah and an advocate for child brides.

Farah Ahmed, a senior at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, created this public service announcement on child marriage for one of her journalism classes. Her professor was impressed with the 2 ½-minute audio file and urged her to find a venue where it could be broadcast more widely. We’re only too happy to provide one.

We appreciate Ms. Ahmed’s willingness to champion the cause of child brides and to share her efforts with Too Young to Wed’s team. We’re also thrilled that she took some time during her midterms to answer a few questions for us.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Farah Ahmed. I am Egyptian-born and raised in the UAE. I am a 20-year-old senior studying journalism and film at the American University of Sharjah. I am going to graduate this summer, and I hope I could continue a career in broadcast journalism.

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a journalist, and pursuing this dream has been the greatest decision I have ever made. I joined the journalism program in 2011 at AUS because I wanted to tell stories, stories of people without a voice. I want their voice to be heard everywhere. I want to fight for their rights to live with dignity and pride. My professors at AUS helped me a lot to make this dream come true. They helped me to be patient and determined and never give up on my dream.

When did you create this commentary and for what purpose? What was the response from listeners?

I created this radio commentary as part of a project for my MCM472 editorial and critical writing class. MCM472 teaches the basics of writing editorials and columns. It also teaches the students how to analyze arguments, generate ideas, research supporting data, write concisely, and control style, voice and tone appropriate to subject matter and audience—and also writing to meet deadlines.

My professor, Dr. Ralph Berenger, played my radio commentary in class on March 11, 2015, and I received very positive criticism from my classmates. And Dr. Berenger said—and I quote him—“Extraordinary. I mean it. This was superbly done. You used statistics persuasively. I don’t know where you can publish this, it should be. Very nicely done.” I decided to contact Too Young To Wed to give me a chance to publish it.

Why did you choose to address the issue of child marriage in your commentary? Was this an issue you were already familiar with or something that recently caught your attention?

Ever since I started my journalism program at AUS, I was always looking for important issues to tackle. Child marriage has always been an issue of interest. Last year I had a chance to work at the Dubai International Film Festival, and I came across a very interesting film about child marriage called “I am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced.” This film [based on the true story of Nujood Ali] talks about Nojoom, a 10-year-old Yemeni girl who was forced to marry a 30-year-old man. After watching this film, I was angered by this disturbing issue. We live in the 21st century, yet there are still families who sell their girls to whomever pays the most money.

Another reason that drove me to talk about child marriage in this radio commentary is the fact that I find it very disturbing that the universe celebrates the International Women’s Day on March 8, yet there are millions of girls getting married before their 15th birthday. I have always wanted to do something to contribute and raise awareness about child marriage, and I hope this radio commentary will somehow help to put an end to this devastating issue.

What solutions do you think will have the greatest impact when it comes to ending child marriage around the world?

Some countries have harsh laws against child marriage, but unfortunately these laws are not implemented and there are still millions of young girls getting married. In order to prevent child marriage, a cultural shift has to occur. There should be major cultural and traditional changes, and families and communities should be aware of the harmful impact of child marriage and of the important and alternative roles of girls and women in society.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t asked you?

I would like to express my gratitude and thanks for Too Young To Wed for their interest in my radio commentary and their kindness to publish my commentary on their website. I am very grateful for this great opportunity. I would also like to thank Dr. Berenger for encouraging me to publish my radio commentary.

You can follow Farah Ahmed on Twitter, @farah_sobhy, and on Facebook. You can also check out her web page.

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6 Friday, March 2015

‘Every girl on this planet has value’

An expansion of the Let Girls Learn initiative, announced this week by President and Michelle Obama, will give girls the world over greater access to education while amplifying their voices, increasing their earning potential, safeguarding their health and empowering them to avoid child marriage.

The effort, announced on Tuesday from the East Room of the White House—just five days before Sunday’s International Women’s Day celebration—builds on the Let Girls Learn global communication campaign. That campaign has generated more than $230 million in new funding to support girls’ education since USAID launched the initiative last summer.

Let Girls Learn tweet

The Peace Corps is the latest group to partner with Let Girls Learn, which has enjoyed the backing of a host of organizations, ranging from the Brookings Institute and Girl Scouts of the USA to CARE and the UN Foundation/Girl Up. With more than 7,000 volunteers in 60 developing countries, the Peace Corps is uniquely positioned to help communities develop grassroots solutions to the educational hurdles facing girls, Michelle Obama told a room full of supporters, including Too Young to Wed’s founder, Stephanie Sinclair.

Some 62 million girls around the world are not in school, diminishing their economic opportunities and political voices and leaving them vulnerable to child marriage, gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS and other health risks, she said. According to USAID, one in seven girls is married before her 15th birthday in the developing world. However, girls with a high school level education are up to six times less likely to marry as children compared to girls who have little or no education.

“And as I’ve traveled the world over the past six years, I’ve seen time and again how our young people—particularly our girls—are so often pushed to the very bottom of their societies. Everywhere I go, I meet these girls, and they are so fiercely intelligent, and hungry to make something of themselves. These girls are our change-makers—our future doctors and teachers and entrepreneurs. They’re our dreamers and our visionaries who could change the world as we know it,” the First Lady said during her Tuesday address. “These girls know they have the spark of something extraordinary inside of them, but too often, that spark is snuffed out by circumstances of their birth or the norms of their communities.”

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama announce the launch of the #LetGirlsLearn education initiative at the White House March 3. They cited the dangers of child marriage among the reasons girls need to be in school. 'I see myself in these girls. I see my daughters in these girls . . . We owe them more,' the First Lady said. --- Stephanie Sinclair
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama announce the launch of the #LetGirlsLearn education initiative at the White House March 3. They cited the dangers of child marriage among the reasons girls need to be in school. ‘I see myself in these girls. I see my daughters in these girls . . . We owe them more,’ the First Lady said.
— Stephanie Sinclair

In addition to helping communities develop their own strategies, the Peace Corps eventually will offer training in gender issues and girls’ education to all of its volunteers, even those focused on other issues like healthcare and agriculture. And the organization will connect volunteers with members of the public and private sector to fund small, locally initiated projects.

In the first year of the collaboration, the Peace Corps will focus its efforts on 11 countries: Albania, Benin, Burkina Faso—where one-third of girls are married as children—Cambodia, Georgia, Ghana, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Togo and Uganda, where 20 percent of girls are married before their 18th birthdays.

tweet 3

While this week’s announcement focused on the newest piece of the Let Girls Learn effort, President Obama also pointed out that the U.S. government supports plenty of existing programs designed to empower girls. Among them:

  • A multi-media campaign in Guinea aimed at protecting girls from female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).
  • The Promoting Human Rights project in Bangladesh, which uses advocacy, role playing and games to address issues related to domestic violence, child marriage and sexual harassment. Community-based groups supported through the project are credited with stopping 382 child marriages in one year.
  • A program in Ethiopia that provides school supplies for families that allow girls to get an education and even rewards those families with cattle if they keep their daughters unmarried. Girls between 10 and 14 who participated in the USAID project were 90 percent less likely to be married by the end of the two-year program, according to an early evaluation.

“We know that when girls are educated, they’re more likely to delay marriage. Their future children, as a consequence, are more likely to be healthy and better nourished. Their future wages increase, which, in turn, strengthens the security of their family. And national growth gets a boost, as well,” the president said Tuesday.

“From a political standpoint, and a security standpoint, places where women and girls are treated as full and equal citizens tend to be more stable, tend to be more democratic. So this is not just a humanitarian issue. This is an economic issue, and it is a security issue. And that’s why it has to be a foreign policy priority.”

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2 Monday, March 2015

Malawi bans child marriage

By Faiza Jama Mohamed, Equality Now Nairobi Office Director

Roughly 50 percent of the girls in Malawi are married as children, but new legislation raises the legal minimum marriage age to 18.  --- Photo by Graeme Robertson
Roughly 50 percent of the girls in Malawi are married as children, but new legislation raises the legal minimum marriage age to 18.
— Photo by Graeme Robertson

Alile was only 14 when her ordeal began in Malawi one afternoon in 2011. She was taken to a house and repeatedly raped by two men before being held captive overnight.

Her family members were shocked that she had spent the night away from home and would not listen to her explanation. They were afraid of being shamed in the community and did not report the rapes to the police due to fear of bringing disgrace and humiliation on the family. Instead, her family forced Alile into marrying one of the rapists. Soon afterwards, she gave birth, but her baby died within a few short months.

Belatedly, and with assistance from the community, the Foundation for Children’s Rights (FCR) found out about Alile’s case and reported it to the police. FCR gave Alile counseling and encouraged her back to school, where she remains. Although FCR received promises from district officials that the two men would be brought to justice, several years later, we understand that no action has been taken.

In response to the experiences of countless girls like Alile and after many years of concerted national and international pressure, Malawi has just taken a huge leap forward for girls by introducing its Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Bill, which sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 – or 16 if parental consent is given. The Malawi Parliament voted unanimously to pass the bill earlier this month, and the president is expected to sign the bill into law any day now.

Eighteen is the agreed minimum age of marriage in international policy, reflected in Equality Now’s report on Protecting the Girl Child – Using the law to end child, early and forced marriage and related human rights violations. This report calls on all governments to take a comprehensive approach to ending child marriage — including by amending discriminatory laws, which allow for lower ages of marriage for females than for males.

Alile’s case reveals a number of shortfalls and gaps in Malawi’s child protection policy, its implementation and the community knowledge of both of these. FCR maintains that people have come to believe that keeping family ties and never suffering public shame are more important than protecting their own child. They would rather have their daughter stay in a bad marriage than be known to have had children out of wedlock.

When children are raped, cases are rarely reported in order to save the families’ “reputation.” Official resources are usually stretched and inadequate to deal with suspected cases of childhood sexual violence. The same is true of the police.

The prevalent belief that a girl should marry as early as possible to maximize her fertility means that child marriage is deeply entrenched in Malawi’s society. However, this state of affairs is not specific to Malawi alone. It is common to many if not all countries where child marriage is prevalent.

Loveness Sitima, at her home in Simaewa, Malawi, discovered she was pregnant at 13. She left an abusive marriage and is now the sole caretaker of her infant daughter and three younger siblings, ages 6, 10 and 12. --- Photo by Graeme Robertson
Loveness Sitima, at her home in Simaewa, Malawi, discovered she was pregnant at 13. She left an abusive marriage and is now the sole caretaker of her infant daughter and three younger siblings, ages 6, 10 and 12.
— Photo by Graeme Robertson

Updating harmful social and cultural norms can be an uphill battle, but it is vital to do this in conjunction with ensuring that good minimum age of marriage laws are enacted and implemented to at least give girls a level playing field.

It is vital to recognize too that child marriage has a direct link to other abuses such as female genital mutilation (FGM), sex trafficking and domestic violence. Since many forms of violence against women and girls are interlinked, it is essential that governments recognize these relationships and ensure that their country’s laws fully empower rather than impede a girl or woman on her journey through life.

Malawi’s vote in favor of girls’ rights comes at a time when momentum is growing toward legal equality for women and girls in many countries across the African continent. In late January, Tunisia signed the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa, a home-grown, pan-African legislative tool, which only Egypt and Botswana have yet to sign. Tanzania just re-affirmed its commitment to intensify efforts to end both child marriage and FGM, while Mozambique rejected a discriminatory penal code, which almost became law.

African women are proud to have spearheaded this change. The Africa we want is getting closer by the day.

Please join Equality Now’s campaign to end sex discriminatory laws.

Faiza Jama Mohamed is Equality Now’s Nairobi Office Director. Equality Now’s Nairobi office is the secretariat for the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR), a coalition of 44 civil society organizations working across 24 countries. Established in 2004, SOAWR works to ensure that the rights of girls and women as articulated in the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa are prioritized by policy makers on the African continent.

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