Too Young To Wed and Brides do Good are proud to continue our unique collaboration as we build ways to eliminate child marriage across the globe. Together, we provide awareness and on-the-ground support to girls who have experienced or are at risk of early, child, and forced marriage. Through Brides Do Good's passion, dedication and integral funding, Too Young To Wed supports Adolescent Girls Photography Workshops in Kenya and educational support for girls who have bravely escaped child marriage in Nigeria and Nepal.
Following the recent reportage on this issue published in the New York Times, Too Young to Wed is committed to providing girls with the emotional and logistical support needed to move forward and to make their own choices. The funds contributed by Brides do Good support Too Young To Wed's ongoing awareness programs and direct support to the girls living in regions most affected by child marriage.
This past week, we spent time with Too Young to Wed's Founder and Executive Director Stephanie Sinclair to discuss her journey to Nigeria for the New York Times article and short film: Child, Mother, Bride: Nigeria.
Why did you choose to visit Nigeria for the latest edition to the Child, Mother, Brides series featured in the New York Times?
It’s well known that child marriage is prevalent in the region. However, how child marriage is used in the context of armed conflicts, particularly how it is used as a weapon of war by fighters, isn’t well understood. The kidnapping and forced marriage of young girls to armed fighters are used to further strategic military goals. These goals can be anything from destroying communities to forcing the girls’ compliance, sexual conquest, and domestic servitude as a spoil of war for morale purposes, to long-term rank and file repopulation, and so on. This manifestation of the phenomenon of child marriage has been grossly underreported – and continues to be, this project notwithstanding.
Are there specific stories you recall during your time in Nigeria that can help us understand the gravity of the situation these girls continue to face upon their return home?
Despite having over 15 years experience reporting on the issue of child marriage and its grave impact on the human rights of girls, the horrific stories shared by the brave young women in Nigeria were easily among the worst I’ve come across.
A girl named Hawa shared how her marriage started in horror, “My parents refused to give me away in marriage, so they killed them in front of me.” Her child, from one of these forced marriages, died during her escape as she simply didn’t have enough milk to feed him. These girls and their families are facing incomprehensible trauma.
Other girls told me stories of having stillborn babies as a result of abuse and lack of nourishment, foraging for weeks after escaping the jungle encampments where they’d been taken. They’d get caught and as punishment and/or an example to others, they’d be lashed a hundred times – while pregnant. Others were set on fire. Many were starved so they were so weak that they wouldn’t have the energy to try to escape. For the ones who did eventually escape and were either pregnant or carrying children, they didn’t have anything to come home to, not a mattress to sleep on or anything to feed their children.
The most alarming part of all this was to discover that there are so many more of these girls than has been previously reported. We’ve all heard about the Chibok girls. There was an international outcry over these 276 girls who were abducted in one raid. This was obviously horrible. But, local law enforcement (the Borno State Emergency Management Agency), has confirmed there have actually been between 7,000 and 9,000 girls abducted from the region. What’s more is that the agency estimates an additional 13,000 girls are still unaccounted for in the areas they have access to.
What can be done to combat this pervasive practice in this region? Or more specifically to help the girls thrive?
In the short-term, we can all help get the word out about the number of girls abducted and forced to marry in this region. If people don’t make noise about this, nothing will change. We need more people to get involved: more activists, more journalists, more human rights workers, more lawyers, more peacekeepers – you name it. Whatever it takes to get the world’s attention.
In the longer term, we need to support legislation that helps level the playing field for girls and women. We need to address economics with programs aimed at providing education and employment skills for these girls so we can end the cycle of poverty that is a direct result of child marriage. We need coalitions and luminaries, international and local, to help change entrenched cultural and social norms that rob girls of their inherent self-worth.
Child marriage is an incredibly intersectional issue: agriculture, economics, family planning, education, religion, and other issues all have impacts on the prevalence of child marriage. The wide range of issues impacting this practice is actually helpful to gain access to communities where child marriage exists. There are so many ways to talk to people about the issue and how it affects them. And, speaking and reporting on the issue definitely opens doors that would otherwise remain closed. And this is the key to creating change – addressing the variety of reasons it’s perpetuated and providing education, alternatives, and opportunities for the girls and the communities where they live.
We’ve already seen so many positive results where governments and organizations have begun to address the issue in a multifaceted way- dealing with economic, cultural, and social drivers simultaneously. We need this change to accelerate and continue!
"My parents refused to give me away in marriage. So they killed them in front of me," said Hawa in November. They then turned to her grandfather. "What do you have to say?" the fighters asked. He reluctantly acquiesced and they handed him a few thousand Nigerian naira, roughly 10 dollars. The men carried Hawa away. "I was terrified," said Hawa, recalling that night in September 2014. Too Young to Wed is proud to announce the release of our newest multimedia collaboration with the Ford Foundation and the New York Times Sunday Review: "Child, Mother, Bride: Nigeria.” Please use the link in our profile to see the full project. The kidnapping of young girls by separatist militants, Boko Haram, was not uncommon in northern Nigeria, yet it was only when the group abducted 276 schoolgirls from their dormitory in the town of Chibok in 2014 that the world took notice. With the mantra “Bring Back Our Girls,” the issue exploded on social media. But with little news from the remote region, the public’s interest waned. Nearly three years later it’s now becoming apparent that the Chibok abductions were just one instance of a profoundly disturbing tactic: child marriage used as a weapon of war -- a practice that has lead to the kidnapping of some 25,000 girls in the region. Our presentation includes photographs and personal statements from formerly kidnapped girls, now returned to an uncertain life in urban Nigeria; and culminates with a short film highlighting one girls' harrowing journey. Photo by @stephsinclairpix. #endchildmarriage #equality #women #bringbackourgirls #color #girls #tooyoungtowed #nigeria