Every two seconds, a young girl is forced into marriage. It often results in abusive and sometimes deadly relationships. The traveling photography exhibit ‘Too Young to Wed’ lays out these facts and aims to change them. The project, currently on display in Buenos Aires, incorporates stunning photos, a video with victim testimonials and shocking statistics.
The exhibition at the National Museum of Decorative Arts (MNAD) transports you from Recoleta to Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Yemen. It is the cornerstone of an awareness campaign by the UN Population Fund, or UNFPA, and VII Photo Agency to eradicate child marriage.
The campaign estimates that 142 million underage brides will marry over the next decade. One in every three girls is married under the age of 18 in developing countries, according to UNFPA. Additionally, one in nine girls is married under the age of 15. Pregnancy in these marriages increases the risk of birth complications, which is a leading cause of death among older adolescents in developing countries.
Visual and photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair’s work is printed on life-sized canvases, allowing you to stare into the eyes of seven-year-old brides. Sinclair’s colourful photos are as gorgeous as they are haunting. She introduces you to each child individually, with a written summary explaining every scene.
Bibi Aisha is one of them. The photo shows sun pouring in from a window, lighting her face— and what’s left of her nose and ears. Her husband, an Afghani Taliban member, cut them off after she attempted to escape their forced marriage. When she was eventually found, mutilation was her punishment.
The exhibit also highlights the problem of child marriage in Argentina. The work of photographers Paula Abalos, Cesar Valentín Guerrieri and Sarah Pabst occupies a wall in the back room, reminding the viewer that it’s a local issue, too.
Bring your reading glasses. The photos are stunning, but descriptions and individual stories exercise a different part of the brain. You start to wrap your head around, statistically, how pervasive child marriage is.
Child marriage occurs in more than 50 countries around the world, Sinclair says in the video. “And almost all result in the girls’ removal from school. What families don’t realise is that by curtailing girls’ education, they’re only perpetuating the cycle of poverty.”
One by one, girls innocently tell their stories.
“In my whole life, I have never felt love,” Mejgon, an 11-year-old girl from Afghanistan says to the camera.
Stories of abuse, mutilation and overall despair are softened by the voices of young girls. They smile on screen, some holding toys while they talk about marriage or are hauled off to their own wedding.
Then comes the husband’s point of view. One man explains that a girl is judged by how she treats her husband. Another justifies abusing his young wife, emphasising that men are kings.
Allow time to watch the video entirely. The massive screen features the same faces from nearby canvases; some smiling, some stopping midway through an interview to sob.
The goal of the project is to “ultimately halt the practice”. Most of this is through spreading awareness. But the exhibit is not just focused on child marriage. It underscores a link to infant and maternal mortality, poverty, and the spread of HIV/AIDS.
The exhibit will remain at the MNAD, Av. del Libertador 1902, until 8th March, and is open Tuesday-Saturday, 2-7pm. Entrance $20, free on Tuesdays. For more information, visit: www.mnad.org.