For eleven years, Stephanie Sinclair traveled throughout Afghanistan, Ethiopia, India, Nepal, Yemen and other countries where child marriage is still common practice for social, spiritual and economic reasons. Her photographs exude ambiguity, fearful tears fall on the brightly colored dresses of child brides, stuffed animals tremble in their arms while everybody celebrates.
The captions tell the story of each girl forced to marry, each deprived of her right: they are taken away from education, from family, filled with misunderstanding, ignorant of sex, of love. “I don’t know how children are made,” says Tehani, age 6, ”but they get pregnant. They carry it inside their stomach. Then they deliver and it comes out a baby.”
Some as young as five are given the responsibilities of a woman. They are more slave than spouse, and find themselves fashioned by selfish male desire. “We don’t call a woman beautiful by the way she looks but by how nicely she takes care of her house and her husband,” says the father of a child bride.
Some stories show signs of hope, like the husband of Destaye, who allowed his wife to attend school over his neighbors’ objection. Humiliation and other direct and indirect consequences of this tradition remain traumatic though. Some believe virginity is a cure to AIDS, and they spread the disease to both women and children. Beyond the dangers of the beliefs themselves, childhood pregnancy causes staggering mortality rates, and the lack of education allows these devastating pattern to recur.
In Afghanistan, desperate brides set themselves on fire in protest. The phenomenon is torn torn between human rights and cultural tolerance. The current exhibition of Stephanie Sinclair at the Bronx Documentary Center, with videos edited with fellow VII Agency photographer Jessica Dimmock, allow the viewer to understand all its complexity.
Too Young to Wed
January 19 – March 16, 2014
Bronx Documentary Center
614 Courtlandt Avenue
Bronx, NY 10451