• October 29, 2013

Celebrating the Courage of Children in Rajasthan

Pamela Chen

Photographer Stephanie Sinclair spent nearly a decade documenting the harmful repercussions of child marriage, from self-immolation to trafficking and rape. In India, home to the highest absolute number of child brides in the world, she witnessed secret wedding ceremonies for girls as young as five years old. Sinclair’s journalistic investigation culminated in her creation of a full-blown campaign to educate and inform to end child marriage around the world.

“Can you imagine not having an education today? You’re completely vulnerable. And with child marriage the girls almost always get pulled out of school,” Sinclair says. “That’s one of the main repercussions. That’s why it’s such a critical issue. Child marriage totally disempowers girls.” But equally important as getting the message out about the negative, she adds, is to highlight the bright spots.

Sinclair recently returned to Rajasthan, India, where change has begun. She met young girls—and boys—who had taken a stand against their own parents and refused to be married, choosing instead to stay in school. In between making images with her regular camera, Sinclair snapped the candid portraits shown here with her mobile phone.

Stephanie Sinclair/VII/TooYoungToWed.org
iPhone portraits by Stephanie Sinclair of young girls in Rajasthan, India, who shared their stories about why they refused their child marriages.

“I pulled out my iPhone camera thinking to myself, How would these girls share their stories if they could do it themselves?” said Sinclair. “My niece is the same age as these girls, and she says everyone her age loves Instagram. So I thought, OK, well then I want to use this way to communicate this story.”

Pictures of Keshanta Gujar, 16. "To my colleagues and other girls I want to say that you too must study. I think that even kids can say no to their parents for marriage," said Gujar
Keshanta Gujar, 16. “To my colleagues and other girls I want to say that you too must study. I think that even kids can say no to their parents for marriage.”

Although Sinclair has reported on child marriage as a professional journalist, her images have taken on another life of advocacy. They have been exhibited and published to influence policymakers and used to pressure governments to change laws or enforce the ones already in place. “I’m still always open to what the men have to say and I think you absolutely have to engage them,” Sinclair acknowledges. “And even though I didn’t come into it this way, I’ll never do a story that child marriage is a positive thing. So in that way I’m not fully objective anymore.”

Babli Maayida, approximately 14 (she was not sure of her exact age).
Babli Maayida, approximately 14 (she was not sure of her exact age). “I did not like it when they said they want to get me married. I said, ‘I’m very young right now and I don’t want to get married. I want to study. I’m a child.'”

Sinclair has sometimes been asked about the issue of projecting Western values into the way she photographs in developing countries. But she points out that it’s a two-way street. “I’m never working in a vacuum. No one will help me with a topic like this unless the people from these communities want these messages to get out.”

Dinesh Chandra Ninama, 14. "This is what happens when you get married young, 'Oh dear, go hear, go there!' I would go for laboring then I’d start boozing. In my village there are people who got married and do this," said Ninama.
Dinesh Chandra Ninama, 14. “This is what happens when you get married young: ‘Oh dear, go here, go there!’ I would go for laboring, then I’d start boozing. In my village there are people who got married and do this.”

“I think that most families want their kids to prosper: That is universal. But I think sometimes traditional practices can get in the way of that,” Sinclair says. “Of course, parents can still force them to get married, but in certain communities, kids are standing up for themselves and the families are listening.”

Savita Daamor, 13.
Savita Daamor, 13. “My father was saying, he will get me married. I refused, I said, ‘No, I won’t get married.’ I would not like it if I got married at a tender age.”

“I want people to see these pictures and be inspired to do work that inspires other people. When I first started this project, I only really dreamed that it would grow to be as big as it is,” said Sinclair. “I don’t think I’ll ever be done with this story. But hopefully my kids will.”

Pictures of Laali Bairwa, 15. "My circumstances were such that my mother had passed away and there was no one to do the work. So I complied and thought,  "Alright I will not study, my life is ruined. Then I went to my father in tears saying, 'Please, I will do the work and study  at the same time.' I said to my father, ‘Do not get me married. I do not want to marry. I want to study.  If you want to educate me, then do it, or I will study on my own.’ If I can say no to my father, then even you can say no," said Bairwa.
Laali Bairwa, 15. “My circumstances were such that my mother had passed away and there was no one to do the work. So I complied and thought, ‘Alright, I will not study, my life is ruined.’ Then I went to my father in tears saying, ‘Please, I will do the work and study at the same time.’ I said to my father, ‘Do not get me married. I do not want to marry. I want to study. If you want to educate me, then do it, or I will study on my own.’ If I can say no to my father, then even you can say no.”

Pamela Chen produced Sinclair’s film Too Young to Wed for the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting in 2011. Follow Chen on Instagram and Twitter. See more images in Stephanie Sinclair’s story “The Secret World of Child Brides” published in the June 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine. Learn more about her project today and how you can get involved.

There are 45 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. rohan
    September 25, 2014

    i like this

  2. Rameah kumar
    June 3, 2014

    nice pic

  3. Mamata Lakshmanna
    December 3, 2013

    Best way to prevent these ccildren from getting married is to continue schooling followed by skill development. If they start earning or continue education marriages are usually delayd. We should also talk to as many people as possible and try to create awareness about the legalage for boys and girls to get married in India, It is 21 years for boys and 18 for girls. We try to do this through our NGO in Hyderabad in Hyderabad and nearby villages. When boys and girls learn about these programmes and youth groups are formed to work with them even the reluctant parents feel happy and support after sometime.Change of attitude is more lasting than punishment( though there is the provision for arrest) in the long run.
    The pictures are great and thanks for starting the debate. Some of the cultural differences are there because either people are not aware of alternatives or due to some selfish motive.

  4. S.P.Devanandan
    November 15, 2013

    I think the government of India should be pressurised to follow the law and annul the child marriages (not just rushing in to stop the marriages) and the parents arrested; the children should be allowed to continue their studies in a boarding school or other protective environment. Culture be blowed!

  5. Simona Domazetoska
    November 15, 2013

    Dear Ms. Chen
    As I do not have your private email address, I am writing here: I work for the Academic Council on United Nations System, and we are organizing a Symposium on 25 Nov on Forced Marriage and Violence against Migrant Women. Your photography would be a very relevant and fantastic contribution to our event. We would be happy to promote and include your work, your logo and organization. The event will take place at the UN headquarters in Vienna Austria. If you are interested, please contact me!
    Many thanks,
    Simona Domazetoska
    Collaborator for ACUNS

  6. Maya
    November 14, 2013

    I’m glad the candle has been lit. The light is sure to follow! Lovely article

  7. khizar hussain mohammed
    November 14, 2013

    This children are grate courage and responsibility feeling to stand against wrong.And personally recommend marriage at early reasonable age is right thing to do.Which is a solution to many issues which we see in different part of world.

  8. Ioana
    November 13, 2013

    A beautiful story and many courageous kids. This fight will be won one child at a time.

    I would like to let some people know that kids may go into puberty at a very young age. I herd of a girl that had her period at the age of 5. Should she have had gotten married then? I should think not.

    I wanted to get married at 15, with a boy i liked. I could have, according to the current law in my country, Romania. Would it have been wise? No. Do I feel sorry I didn’t? I actually feel glad I didn’t.

    Marriage is a form of consent. How could the bride consent without being knowledgeable about what marriage entails? For that much, how could the groom?

    There are cases where this marriage is just a form of human trafficking or as such. And in this matter, who would agree to a child being subjected to God knows what? How could a child fight if he/she has no knowledge about that? How could one fight something when the mere possibility of fighting is impossible to conceive?

    This is the best way to give one the tools needed for one’s freedom.
    Congrats. It’s an awesome work and a noble endeavour.

  9. Fredy Sanchez
    November 13, 2013

    More than a beautiful work. Great people loving these courage girls!

  10. Anna Kavanagh
    November 13, 2013

    It’s a natural thing for us who were raised in a free countries to see it as something wrong. But you need to remember that it used to be like that for a thousands years world wide and no one though it was wrong. Rules of civilised world are changing . Some countries takes longer than others. That’s the beauty freedom. When you see others that are ” free” to do what they want, it’s just natural to want the same for yourself.

  11. H
    November 13, 2013

    I think they can marry and study too
    I recommend marriage at early reasonable age
    I mean When they hit puberty
    Delaying the marriage in such a rural areas may lead to babies born without marriage and a lot of single moms or abortions since pregancy prevention methods are too expensive for them and not in reach for those people
    And delaying the marriage could lead to more rape cases, and victims in such areas probably don’t report these cases.
    Thus some ideology you see suitable for your culture may not be suitable for all places in the world.

  12. Megalistha Pratiwi
    November 13, 2013

    Children are our future. So, they need the best treatment in their life. Next 10 or 20 years, if we can treat them well, support them in education properly, we’ll see them as the greatest leader.

  13. Amrutha Bushan
    November 13, 2013

    Powerful images!

  14. Julia Ramirez
    November 13, 2013

    Ojala todas las mujeres en el mundo tuviesen el valor y el coraje que han demostrado tener esas niñas . Son admmirables

  15. sana
    November 13, 2013

    Love the work and the pictures are just amazing… Bravo for these children!

  16. Erica
    November 13, 2013

    When I was 3, my family moved to Ecuador from New York. While there, when I was around the age of 5 or 6, my mother sat me down to inform me a very influential Ecuadorian family with many sons had asked for me to be married to one of their sons. I remember distinctly saying, “oh no, mother, I’m too young.” I’m a multi-generation American, of distinctly Western European heritage, and this could have been me!

  17. Maria Powers
    November 13, 2013

    Thank you for sharing the pictures of these young people. I love that the boys too are stepping up and refusing to be married too young. It takes a village of determined children to reach into the future. As for the people who claim tradition is good and different cultures have different values, at one time in America, our culture was to enslave other human beings. Fortunately many saw the error of that tradition and fought a war to insist that some cultural differences are wrong no matter what you label the reason for the tradition.

  18. Karin
    November 13, 2013

    Very, very good and beautiful work. 🙂

  19. Devaraj Shenoy
    November 12, 2013

    Qudos to those children who have stood against the will of their parents to get them married at a tender age…

  20. Claudia de Canjura
    November 12, 2013

    Beautiful pictures, beautiful courageous people!

  21. Rita Kanell
    November 12, 2013

    It’s wonderful to know that these brave and beautiful girls have such courage to say no to their parents. I love their determination!

  22. Lorena Muricy
    November 12, 2013

    Thank’s Pamela. The world needs more people like you.

  23. kathi needles
    November 12, 2013

    beautifully done

  24. Vidya
    November 12, 2013

    Even Gandhiji was against child marriage. Why aren’t these people listening to the father of their nation ?

  25. Jorge
    November 12, 2013

    Amazing photos. You can see their happiness. I’m not talking about a photo smile but a true smile.

  26. kiran
    November 6, 2013

    Precious smiles!!! Well done!!

  27. Shari Rosenquist
    November 4, 2013

    I would like to tell the parents of these kids that there are millions of people all around the world who applaud them for listening to their children when they say what they want for their lives. We support them 100% when they educated their children and refuse to force them into something they do not want. It must be scary for the parents, but so many in the world want them to know that this is the best thing for their children!

    November 4, 2013

    Brilliant photographs.

  29. Patagonia Trails
    November 3, 2013

    Well done! POr tu compromiso, paz y determinacion! UN mensaje claro, simple y bien firme para generar cambios hacia una humanidad libre

  30. Sandra
    November 1, 2013

    My mom did this to me and I said no .I was only 16 .

  31. Juan Javier
    November 1, 2013

    These children have rights and freedom to live their childhood life…Good courage !…Some words is Spanish too, Animo y hacia delante..! New Jersey, USA…

  32. Maria
    November 1, 2013

    These children are very brave standing up to get an education. It takes a lot of courage to do that. They are an inspiration to others. Pamela and Sinclair, thumbs up for your work bringing awareness to the world. Children deserve to study not get married at such an early age. We respect other cultures but these children need help. Thanks

  33. Marama Gossage
    November 1, 2013

    Beautiful photographs of beautiful girls Lovely work

  34. El Gabilon
    October 30, 2013

    Cultures are different, thus comparing one culture to another is unfair if one attempts to impose upon the other their own culture. Cultures are also in flux, changing, evolving and that is what is happening in India regarding their marriage practices. India has rapidly moved into the 21st century regarding the economy but culture takes time. When the old have passed away and the new endure new traditions will prevail. Usually there are sound reasons for cultural traditions that may not be recoginced by someone from a different culture. Give a balanced account not making the ancestors look as though they were fiends.

  35. Jade B
    October 30, 2013

    They be able to choose if they want to marry somebody,who they marry, and when they do!

  36. Peter K. Wangi
    October 30, 2013

    Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
    If parents/guardians take their responsibility to RESPECT and CARE for OUR children this child marriages will cease. Animals in India have more brains if I may say so. They wait for the right time.

  37. Wilmar Fagúndez
    October 30, 2013

    Es una muy linda niña y con un coraje inspirador para otras mujeres. Gran admiracion desde Uruguay.

  38. Rafael
    October 30, 2013

    it’s great to hear such inspiring news from half way around the world and even from a place so far away it makes a big impact. i hope more people do the same and help these children

  39. Tarayn
    October 30, 2013

    Well done!
    The courage of these kids is amazing
    I am 14, just like one of the girls in these pictures.
    At this age children barely know who they are. Child marriage creates a vicous circle that has disastrous effects.
    I pray for these girls to have strength and courage. May God be with them in standing up to this and in helping them to learn and better their situation.

  40. Laurent Pugazhendhi
    October 30, 2013

    Well done, Stephanie & .Pamela. I know it’s easier to wish. And do nothing more. Yet I feel that to support a cause from heart is great. We, mostly Indians, I feel, attach too much importance to tradition, rather than values of life.

  41. vijendra singh rathore
    October 29, 2013

    I think or I can sati believe that this senario is going to be completely change in upcoming few years for that we are working very passionately .

  42. Baljeet Singh
    October 29, 2013

    Is very hard to say nothing. But is wrong not good

  43. Kriquette
    October 29, 2013

    I am glad someone is helping these girls I have read about other girls being married off as young as 4 and 5 Women are the key to tomorrow. Unless we help our girls live in a world that is safe for them our world has no hope!

  44. Debra
    October 29, 2013

    Bravo Pamela! Simon Brown’s mirrors my feelings as well. 😀

  45. Simon Brown
    October 29, 2013

    This is powerful and important work, elegantly presented. It’s nice to see these young people presented with arrange of expressions, including those radiant smiles.

    As for your worries about losing objectivity. Well done. We are constantly pressured as photojournalists to be an impossible purely transmissive vessel; to act as though we have no beliefs or values of our own. Well, like our viewers, we have beliefs and values, we are human beings. There comes a point where we have to step up and say either “this I find good” or “this I find wrong”.

    Well done Stephanie. Oh, I wish a long and happy life filled with love for the brave young people featured too.

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