I’m traveling to Geneva next week along with representatives of the
International Oromo Youth Association to meet with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to talk about children’s rights in Ethiopia. We submitted a report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in July, and the Committee invited us to meet with Committee members in a 2.5 hour, closed-door session next Friday.
As I get ready to head back to Geneva, my thoughts turn to my last visit to the United Nations, back in March. As I wandered through the Palais des Nations complex of buildings after a busy day, I came across an exhibit that left me speechless. This exhibit was in the majestic main hallway of the old League of Nations building—a space with towering ceilings and beautiful views of Lake Geneva. But in that grand setting was a photo exhibit about a pernicious contemporary global human rights violation: child marriage. Child marriage is a worldwide phenomenon, but as it turns out, several of the girls in the exhibit are from Ethiopia.
And the exhibit is particularly timely right now. On Monday,
Bangladesh approved a law that will impose a two-year prison sentence on anyone who marries a girl under age 18. And on Wednesday, a judge in India admonished the parents and in-laws of a 14-year-old bride, stating “Child marriage is an evil worst than rape and should be completely eradicated from the society.” The magistrate continued:
There are serious outcomes of child marriage. It is the worst form of domestic violence against the child, not only by the respondents (husband and his family) but also by her own parents. Child brides have a diminished chance of completing their education and are at a higher risk of being physically abused, contracting HIV and other diseases, and dying while pregnant or giving birth.
The traveling exhibit, called “
Too Young to Wed” (more information at the bottom of this post), is a striking example of how art can inform our understanding of human rights issues:
Yemen: Young girls sit inside a home outside of Al Hudaydah. Yemeni women’s rights groups agree that child marriage is rampant in every part of Yemeni society.
Yemen: Galiyaah, age 13, Sidaba, age 11, Khawlah, age 12. In Yemen, where marriage can resemble a business transaction, sisters Galiyaah (left) and Sidaba (center), marry the brothers of their cousin, Khawlah (right), who wed the sisters’ uncle.
Ethiopia: Debitu, age 14. Debitu escaped from her husband after months of abuse. Seven months pregnant, she is now homeless and uncertain of her future. “I didn’t want to get pregnant because I was very small. I wanted to wait until I am old enough. . . Sometimes I think I will die [during child birth].”
Nepal: Surita, age 16, Bishal, age 15. Bishal accepts gifts from visitors as his new bride, Surita, sits bored at her new home. Here in Nepal, as in many countries, not only girls, but boys too are married young.
Nepal: Sumeena, age 15. Sumeena leaves her home to meet her groom, Prakash, 15. The harmful practice of child marriage is common in Nepal.
Ethiopia: Destaye, age 11, Addisu, age 23. Addisu and his new bride Destaye are married in a traditional Ethiopian Orthodox wedding in a rural area outside the city of Gondar, Ethiopia. Community members said that because of Addisu’s standing as a priest, his bride had to be a virgin. This was the reason Destaye was given to him at such a young age.
(right) Ethiopia: Destaye, age 11. Destaye, now 15, intended to continue her schooling, in spite of the teasing she endured from her community. “They used to laugh at me for going to school after marriage,” she said. “But I know the use of school so I don’t care. . . . But people laughing at you makes it more difficult.” But after the birth of her son six months ago, Destaye no longer had time for classes. “I feel sad because I quit learning,” she said.
Ethiopia: Members of the Fistula Girls Club and the Community-based Reproductive Association get ready to perform a traditional dance during a performance against child marriage in Shende village in Ethiopia. This is one of many events hosted by the groups to discourage early marriage and other harmful practices in the Bure district.
Afghanistan: Ghulam, age 11. Ghulam plays in the village on the day of her engagement. Removed from school just months earlier, she said she is sad to be getting engaged because she wanted to be a teacher. Parents sometimes remove their daughters from school to protect them from the possibility of sexual activity outside of wedlock.
Afghanistan: Ghulam, age 11; Faiz, age 40. Ghulam and Faiz, age 40, sit for a portrait in her home before their wedding in Afghanistan. According to the U.S. Department of State report “Human Rights Practices for 2011,” approximately 60 percent of girls were married younger than the legal age of 16. Once a girl’s father has agreed to her engagement, she is pulled out of school immediately.
Yemen: Nujood, age 12. Nujood Ali, two years after her divorce from her husband, who was more than 20 years her senior. Nujood’s story sent shock waves around the country and caused parliament to consider a bill writing a minimum marriage age into law.
Ethiopia: Street girls attend classes at Godanaw Rehabilitation Integrated Project (GRIP) in Addis Ababa. This Ethiopian humanitarian shelter provides skills training and health care to thousands of street girls—three-quarters of whom have escaped early marriages in the countryside.
Yemen: Asia, age 14. Asia washes her newborn at home in Hajjah while her 2-year-old daughter plays. Asia is still bleeding and ill from childbirth, yet has no knowledge of how to care for herself or access to maternal health care.
Ethiopia: China, age 18. A young sex worker named China sits stunned after being beaten up by a client. Many of the girls who run away from child marriages end up trafficked to brothels where they often face intense violence.
Afghanistan: Jamila, age 15. Kandahar policewoman Malalai Kakar arrests a man who repeatedly stabbed his wife, 15, and mother of two children, for disobeying him. When asked what would happen to the husband for this crime, Kakar replied, “Nothing. Men are kings here.” Kakar was later killed by the Taliban.
Afghanistan: Mejgon, Age 16. Mejgon weeps in the arms of the case worker near fellow residents at an NGO shelter run by Afghan women in Herat, Afghanistan. Mejgon’s father sold her at the age of 11 to a 60-year-old man for two boxes of heroin.
Yemen: Tehani, age 8. “Whenever I saw him, I hid. I hated to see him,” Tehani (in pink) recalls of the early days of her marriage to Majed, when she was 6 and he was 25. The young wife posed for a portrait with former classmate Ghada, also a child bride, outside their home in Hajjah.
India: Sarita, age 15. Sarita is seen in tears before she is sent to her new home with her new groom. The previous day, she and her 8-year-old sister Maya were married to sibling brothers.
(left) India: Rajani, age 5. Long after midnight, Rajani is roused from sleep and carried by her uncle to her wedding. Child marriage is illegal in India, so ceremonies are often held in the wee hours of the morning. “It becomes a secret the whole village keeps,” explained one farmer.
India: Rajani, age 5. Rajani and her boy groom barely look at each other as they are married in front of the sacred fire. By tradition, the young bride is expected to live at home until puberty, when a second ceremony transfers her to her husband.
Ethiopia: Agere, age 32. Agere breastfeeds her twin newborns. Agere was married at age 12 to her husband, who later gave her AIDS. The twins have tested HIV positive. Now abandoned, she does not have enough money to buy them uninfected milk.
Nepal: Niruta, age 14. A nine-months pregnant Niruta carries grass for her family’s farm animals in Kagati Village, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Niruta moved in with the family of Durga, 17, and became pregnant when they were only engaged.
Afghanistan: Bibi Aisha, age 19. In a practice known as baad, Bibi Aisha’s father promised her to a Taliban fighter when she was 6 years old as compensation for a killing that a member of her family had committed. She was married at 16 and subjected to constant abuse. At 18, she fled the abuse but was caught by police, jailed and then returned to her family. Her father-in-law, husband and three other family members took her into the mountains, cut off her nose and her ears, and left her to die. “I was a woman exchanged for someone else’s wrongdoing. [My new husband] was looking for an excuse to beat me.”
(left) Afghanistan: Roshan, age 8. Female relatives of the bride-to-be, Roshan, prepare food and tea for guests on the day of her engagement to Said, 55, at her home in rural Afghanistan. Upset about the engagement of her daughter, Roshan’s mother exclaimed, “We are selling our daughters because we don’t have enough food to feed the rest of our children!” (center) Yemen: Tehani, age 8. Tehani works in the fields just outside her village in a rural area of Hajjah, Yemen. (right) Nepal: Surita, age 16. Village leader Pudke Shreshta Balami blesses the home of Surita directly following the wedding ceremony in Nepal.
Too Young to Wed is part of a transmedia campaign led by VII Photo Agency photographer Stephanie Sinclair, who has documented the global issue of child marriage for nearly a decade. The original photos in the exhibit were taken by Sinclair and Jessica Dimmock. Too Young to Wed is a partnership between the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and VII, a premier photo agency known for focusing on social issues and human rights. Sinclair and Dimmock collaborated on the project. Learn more about the project here.
You can read more about child marriage. The Advocates for Human Rights’
Women’s Human Rights Program maintains the Stop Violence Against Women ( StopVAW) website, which includes information and resources about child marriage. In December 2013, an organization called Women Living Under Muslim Laws submitted the results of its multi-country study on child and forced marriage to the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.
How can you use words, images, cartoons, and other media to be an advocate for human rights?
By: Amy Bergquist, staff attorney with the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights
For more on children’s rights in Ethiopia, read the
report by The Advocates for Human Rights and the International Oromo Youth Association to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.