Pulitzer Center Update

Day of the Girl: End Child Marriage

Nujood Ali was 10 when she fled her abusive, much older husband and took a taxi to the courthouse in Sanaa, Yemen. The girl's courageous act -- and the landmark legal battle that ensued -- turned her into an international heroine for women's rights. Image by Stephanie Sinclair. Yemen, 2010.

Hundreds of former kamlaris, or domestic slaves, gather in Ghorahi, Nepal, during the Maghe Sankranti festival to protest against the kamlari practice. Image by Carlos Avila Gonzalez. Nepal, 2009.

Kausi Chaudhary is hugged by her sister, Sibitri, as her parents negotiate selling her to a family as a kamlari. Image by Carlos Avila Gonzalez. Nepal, 2009.

Image by Stephanie Sinclair. Yemen, 2011.

Image by Stephanie Sinclair, Afghanistan, 2005

Gulmakai, 22, says she made up poems as she cooked and cleaned the house. She recited one of her works:

Making love to an old man is like/Making love to a limp cornstalk blackened by fungus.

“I know this is true,” she announced. “My father married me to an old man against my will when I was 15.” Image by Seamus Murphy. Afghanistan, 2012.

Lima Niazi, 15, joined Mirman Baheer two years ago and is known as a very good poet. She recently won the group’s literary prize. Her life improved after the Taliban’s fall. Image by Seamus Murphy. Afghanistan, 2012.

Ozyr Khul, standing, three days before his wedding. He is unsure of how old he is, but his friends guess between 13 and 15, while his parents swear he is 16. Child marriage is pandemic in Afghanistan, with 57 percent of marriages involving girls below the legal age limit. Image by Anna Badkhen. Afghanistan, 2011.

Restaveks, or child slaves, of Haiti. Image is a video still from Carmen Russell and Dane Liu's project on child slaves.

Suntali Thami is among the 51 percent of Nepalese who marry as children, according to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Image by Hanna Ingber. Nepal, 2011.

Kainat Soomro is a 17-year-old Pakistani girl who escaped an honor killing. Image by Hilke Schellmann. Pakistan, 2010.

Thailand is often called “Disneyland for pedophiles.” UNICEF surveys indicate that 30 to 35 per cent of all sex workers in the Mekong sub-region of Southeast Asia are between 12 and 17 years of age. Sex tourism targeting children creates huge monetary incentives for traffickers, which impacts an estimated 1.2 million child victims annually. Image by Deena Guzder.

You won’t allow me to go to school.
I won’t become a doctor.
Remember this:
One day you will be sick.

- A short poem, known as a landai, addressed to the Taliban, by Lima Niazi, a 15-year-old Afghan girl

Around the world, millions of girls are missing.

Some don’t exist, aborted by families in Pakistan, China and elsewhere who didn’t want girls. Some are forced to marry and have children. Others lose their childhoods and futures to sexual violence and war, while others are silenced by radical groups forbidding their schooling or self-expression.

Today, we reflect on this because it is the first International Day of the Girl Child, which calls attention to the systemic crises girls face, while celebrating their resilience and empowerment.

This year, the day’s theme is Ending Child Marriage. A silent global crisis, it is estimated that 10 million girls under 18 are given or sold into marriage each year.

In South Africa, Ulundi women and girls are forced into marriage and silence, writes student fellow Melissa Turley. In Afghanistan, girls are given as brides to repay debt in the opium trade.

Child marriage exists in more than 50 developing countries. In South Central Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America, a quarter to 45 percent of women are married by age 18, according to the Population Reference Bureau. Girls who marry young are more likely to drop out of school, get pregnant at a very early age, and be subject to abuse.

For eight years, Pulitzer Center grantee Stephanie Sinclair followed child marriage in several countries, which resulted in the much lauded Too Young to Wed project and video. Today, Stephanie, the VII photo cooperative and the UN Population Fund launched a new transmedia website that allows users to learn about child marriage and take steps against it.

“If the current trend continues,” says Sinclair in the "Too Young to Wed" documentary, “more than 100 million more young girls will be married over the next decade.”

If other trends continue, millions more girls will be sold into slavery and the sex trade. Pulitzer Center grantees Meredith May and Carlos Avila Gonzalez examined kamlari, or domestic slavery, in Nepal, where girls as young as seven are sold by families seeking ways to make ends meet. In Haiti, restaveks, or child slaves, make up 10 percent of the youth population, reported grantee Carmen Russell in 2010.

In crisis, girls are uniquely affected. The aftershocks of the 2010 Haitian earthquake included both an increase in rape and sexual assault, as well as an increase in the number of young prostitutes from girls as young as eight, as grantees Andre Lambertson and Lisa Armstrong saw. In war zones, girls are assaulted sexually and emotionally, as their access to education and a stable future diminishes, as grantee Anna Badkhen reported from Afghanistan.

The International Day of the Girl Child will continue beyond a single day, with Sinclair’s photos on exhibit at the New York UN Headquarters from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily until November 29th. 2012.

Let us know how you will celebrate by leaving a comment. Or follow Lima's example and leave a landai below.