In a pastoral Afghan village, Gulham, an 11-year-old girl was married off to 40-year old Jaiz, which makes her only one of more than 10 million juvenile girls that are forcefully married to older men each year.
Photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair teamed up with National Geographic to assemble a group of heart-breaking photographs showing juvenile girls, even as young as 5 years old, wedded to older men in countries like India, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Yemen, in order to point out the problem and raise awareness about the dark world of child brides.
A disturbing photo of Faiz, 40 and Gulham, 11, taken in the rural Damarda Village, sitting in her home before their wedding.
Tahani, 8 and her former classmate Ghada, 8 with their husbands, outside their home in Hajjah, Yemen.
Speechless: Sarita, 15 (left) is covered in tears and agony after she is sent to her new home in Rajasthan, India, and SumeenaShreshtaBelami, 15 (right) leaves her home to meet her assigned husband.
Even though child marriage is forbidden in many countries around the world, and international conventions also forbid the practice, the estimated number of under-18-year-old married girls is 51 million, often married behind closed curtains and in secrecy. It is believed that nearly 57 percent of the girls in Afghanistan are married before the legal age of 16.
From old cultural customs to constraints from the community and even economic concerns, a handful of factors influence the parents to marry off their daughters. In many developing countries it is quite common to settle family debts by offering their young daughters as payment.
In most cases, the grooms may be even decades older than their young engaged brides, besides India, where girls are usually married to boys which are only several years older.
As disturbing as it may sound, kidnapping the girls and raping them before tying the knot is a rather common practice for men.
Abundant: Priest AddisuAbebe (23) and his new wife Destaye (11) are married in rural areas outside Gondar, Ethiopia in a traditional Ethiopian Orthodox wedding.
Revolting: A photograph of Said (55) and Roshan (8) on the day of their engagement in Afghanistan.
Child mothers: 14-year-old mother Asia with her two children in their home in Hajjah.
Photojournalist Sinclair has been travelling since 2003 to document the weddings and transformation of child brides in remote countries like Yemen and Nepal, hoping to increase recognition of their problem and to give them a voice.
Experts admit that early marriage denies the girls education and takes away their childhood. Most young housewives do not get a chance to interact with their companions or carry on friendships outside the household because they are overwhelmed by grownup responsibilities.
The 11-year-old bride from Afghanistan took a part in a rather hear-breaking event. She was forced to drop out of school and give up on her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Parents oftentimes forbid their daughters to attend classes even before they are engaged, so they can limit the interactions with other boys.
In many cases, the girls are oppressed by their husbands, leaving them vulnerable to domestic violence as well as physical, sexual and verbal abuse.
Young wives who have the luck to escape from their husbands end up living in poverty, or even worse. Some girls even approach prostitution as a way to earn a low income. They often start working in Brothels where horrific abuse and violence are very common.
Fearless: Debritu, 14 (left) was brave enough to escape her husband while being in the seventh month of her pregnancy;
Nujood Ali, 10 (right) decided to leave her older abusive husband. She gained strength and courage and took a taxi to the courthouse in Sanaa, Yemen.
A young prostitute sits shocked after being beaten up by a visitor of the brothel she works in Bahir Dai, Ethiopia.
According to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Responding, teenage girls are more likely to have obstructed labor because their bodies are not fully developed yet. Studies show that pregnancy deaths for child brides are twice that of women in their 20s.
Knowing the fact that most of the girls that enter early marriages are expected to get pregnant right away, often leads to tragedy for both the mothers and their babies.
Some of the medical outcomes of forcing girls into sex and childbirth before they are physically mature can result in split vaginal walls and internal ruptures called fistulas which can lead to life-long incontinence says a doctor based in Yemen.
One of the problems is that the girls are sometimes too young to even understand the concept of reproduction. The doctor says that nurses usually start by asking the girls if they know what’s happening and if they understand that there is a baby growing inside of them.
It is estimated that over the next 10 years, about 100 million under-aged girls, or about 25000 girls a day, will marry before the age of 18, unless international organizations take rigorous steps to reverse the troubling trend.
To learn more about the campaign against the practice of early marriages, visit Too Young To Wed.