Today, October 11, 2012, heralds the first International Day of the Girl Child, which the United Nations Population Fund, working in concert with VII Photo, will observe with an exhibition at the United Nations Headquarters in New York featuring photography and video productions from Jessica Dimmock and Stephanie Sinclair. Sinclair, a photojournalist who has been documenting the harsh, gut-churning realities of child marriages for girls in over 50 countries since 2003, spoke with NBC News' Meredith Birkett about how child marriage can hamper a country's economic and social progress.
After meeting several girls in Afghanistan who had self-immolated and discovering that many of them had been child brides, Sinclair felt she "couldn't help but feel a responsibility to research and document whatever it was that would make these girls set themselves on fire." That initial call-to-action has led Sinclair on an eight-year journey through more than 50 countries (including Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Ethiopia and Yemen, to name a few), where she has examined the cultural underpinnings of child marriage and the stagnating effects it seems to have on developing countries.
When asked what the big, eyebrow-raising takeaway of her photo chronicles should be, Sinclair pointed to the heartbreaking fact that the girls consigned to marriage at a young age really just want to lead a normal childhood:
There are many disturbing factors related to child marriage. But I think the thing that we must acknowledge is that in most cases these young children do not want to be married. They want normal lives - to play with their friends, be educated and have a full adolescence. These marriages rob many girls of their innocence, many times before puberty and this is something that as a global society we cannot tolerate.
Fortunately, almost every image in this project was done with the help of the locals living within these societies. They wanted this issue to get support so they could be further empowered to combat child marriage. This practice not only harms the young brides but also impedes the development of their communities and societies as a whole.
As for stamping out the practice of child marriage, Sinclair explained that, while it's important to give financial incentives to families to make sure girls stay in school, or provide vocational training so those girls can earn a living on their own, there's no easy solution to the problem.
Image via ©Stephanie Sinclair / VII / tooyoungtowed.org