They were able to work through some of their traumatic experiences through photographing each other.
Stephanie Sinclair was in Herat, Afghanistan 15 years ago visually documenting a horrific story about girls and women that set themselves on fire in the region when she noticed a disturbing pattern among the victims. She found that many of them had been forced into marriage when they were just children and that their self-harm was a result of their misery.
Child marriage is an epidemic that is based on tradition in many areas of the world that leads to a number of the world’s causes of human suffering: poverty, gender inequality, child and maternal mortality, and the continuous spread of HIV/AIDS.
Sinclair took her newfound passion for ending this horrible practice and, using her photography skills, worked with the UN Population Fund to create campaigns to raise awareness about the issue. She later started Too Young To Wed, a nonprofit organization that aims to advocate for an end to child marriage and work on-the-ground with the young girls affected by this tragedy.
Though Sinclair usually takes her own photographs of the girls that are victims of this practice, she decided to give cameras to the girls instead so that they could take portraits of each other and share their stories. The results of this project are stunning and, paired with the captions written by the 11 to 14-year-olds, offer an exclusive insight into these girls’ lives.
The girls, who were also rescued from being a child bride, were paired up so that they could share their lives with another person and be photographed by them. Sinclair said in an interview with NPR,
“Within the first hour that they had the cameras, they created these really beautiful, vulnerable portraits. I think they just got it. They understood the power of their story and of their voice.”
At the end of the workshop, the girls were allowed to pick which photos they wanted to share at an exhibition with about 70 people from their community in attendance. Sinclair said that although all of them had taken goofy photos of each other, they chose the serious portraits as a representation of the sadness that still lingers from being married off as a child.
The program wound up being a form of art therapy for the girls and its success means that the nonprofit, along with the Samburu Girls Foundation, which rescues girls from child marriage and female genital mutilation, now plan to do this several times a year to help with these girls’ rehabilitation.
Scroll through the photos below and be sure to read the accompanying caption to be moved by these child brides’ stories.
Maria is pictured here. She said: “I was married when I was very young. I used to sell milk to get food and sleep in the forest because I don’t have a place to sleep. Society should stop bad practices because what I have been through was so hard for me. After my education, I would like to be a nurse so that I can help other girls like me.”
Mary is pictured here. She said: “I have learned so many things for my future and my life. I can teach other girls in our society and advise them to stop early marriages and circumcision.”
Modestar is pictured here. She said: “I am at the Samburu Girls Foundation for many problems. One is for early marriage. I could not go to school because my parents were very poor. This made me very sad. I could not say my A, B, C, Ds, but I knew I was a very bright girl. Today, they gave us small things called cameras. Everybody carries them. For the rest of my life, I will not forget this day.”
Angela is pictured here. She said: “Today we took photos of each other. We shared our stories about our challenges. It is good for girls to share their stories, these photos are from our heart. Marriage is not good for young girls. What I feel today: Nice, excited, fantastic, enjoyment.”
Eunice is pictured here. She said: “Today I learned a girl can do anything — that a boy and girl are equal, no one is more special, and I am happy about it. I am happy that the new things I learned today [are] to be confident and be powerful.”
Nashaki is pictured here. She said: “Today we shared our stories with each other. It is important. My friend cried when she shared her story, but I know it also made her happy. It will not be forgotten. I love her.”
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