A Conversation About Child Brides

Photographer Stephanie Sinclair and writer Cynthia Gorney—in the June 2011 issue of National Geographic—investigated the underground world of prearranged child marriage, where girls as young as five are forced to wed. In conversation with Jon Sawyer of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, they will share images and stories of a practice that spans continents and cultures. Co-presented with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Photograph by Stephanie Sinclair 

By Caroline Gerdes

Child brides are not unique to a single country, religion, or language.  Even though child marriage is illegal in most nations, it is a common tradition — older than laws protecting against it.

“Every time I have been granted access [to take pictures] it is because there is someone within the community … who didn’t necessarily like the practice. But they wanted their voices to be heard,” said Stephanie Sinclair, who photographed National Geographic magazine’s piece examining child marriage, “Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides.”

With the publication of the article and continuing efforts, Sinclair and the story’s author Cynthia Gorney are making sure these voices are being heard.  The writer and photographer team will speak at National Geographic’s headquarters Monday, October 5. Sinclair and Gorney will show compelling images and discuss all the dilemmas facing child brides in today’s world.

One instance in the article discusses when Gorney and Sinclair witnessed the wedding ceremony of a 5-year-old girl, Rajani, to a 10-year-old boy in Rajasthan. Sinclair captured an image of Rajani at her wedding — a joint affair with her 13 and 15-year-old aunts — peering over her uncle’s shoulder as he carried her to the ceremony. She is fighting sleep while one of her big brown eyes peers from under a yellow scarf — a far cry from a western wedding march.

Sinclair’s often graphic images of young, abused wives, teenage mothers without proper healthcare, and a wailing 16-year-old on her wedding day tell the stories of young girls across the world who need help. Gorney explains these illegal ceremonies still happen today due to tradition, predatory dangers to women, the non-virgin stigma, and the idea in some cultures that freedom to choose a marriage partner is foolish.

If you’re in D.C., join us for this National Geographic Live event at Grosvenor Auditorium on Monday, October 3rd. Can’t make it in person? Tweet @NatGeoLive to learn more, and watch Stephanie’s multimedia presentation below.

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Caroline Gerdes recently graduated from Louisiana State University where she studied journalism and history (her major and minor, respectively). As a native of the Greater New Orleans Area, she decided to explore her own backyard with help from a Young Explorers Grant. Caroline is currently conducting an oral history project about the New Orleans Ninth Ward. She seeks to record the community’s full history — its immigrant beginnings, the development of jazz, the depression and prohibition, desegregation and hurricanes. Caroline’s exploration is also a personal quest as her father and paternal grandparents grew up in the Ninth Ward. Her blogs reflect an inside look at New Orleans life and culture, especially the edible aspects.