At age 11, Ghulam was married off to 40-year-old Jaiz in a rural Afghan village, making her only one of more than 10 million young girls who are being forced to wed men old enough to be their fathers or grandfather every year.
|Voiceless: Sumeena Shreshta Balami, right, 15, leaves her home to meet her groom, Prakash Balami, 16, in Kagati Village in Nepal, while Sarita, left, 15, is seen covered in tears and sweat before she is sent to her new home in Rajasthan, India|
In an effort to start a global conversation about the devastating effects of early marriages, which are currently practiced in more than 50 developing countries, the United Nations designated October 11 as International Day of the Girl Child this year.
To mark the occasion and draw attention to the problem of child brides, photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair teamed up with National Geographic to create a series of heart-breaking photos depicting girls as young as five years old being married off to middle-aged men in countries like India, Yemen and Ethiopia.
Although child marriage is against the law in many countries, and international treaties forbid the practice, it is estimates that about 51 million girls below age 18 are currently married, often under the cover of darkness and in secret. In Afghanistan alone, it is believed that approximately 57 per cent of girls wed before the legal age of 16.
Various factors drive parents of child brides to marry off their daughters, from the community’s pressure to confirm to age-old cultural customs to economic considerations. In poor, developing nations, it is not uncommon for families to settle debts by offering their daughters as payment.
Beside India, where girls are usually wed to boys who are only a couple of years their senior, the husbands may be decades older than their prepubescent betrothed. It is not uncommon for men to kidnap girls and rape them first before trying the knot.