Grad school’s kicking my butt, and blogging keeps taking a back seat lately. Fortunately, I have a moment to breathe and write about a National Geographic project showing that came to the Boston Public Library through the Boston University College of Communications. The showing included a 9-minute film; talks from the producers, writers, pulitzer director, and health directors; and a brief moment for questions at the end. This post is a brief synopsis of what went on for the people involved in the story and what we as the audience experienced at the viewing.
In isolated rural areas throughout Asia, girls as young as 5-years-old are sold into marriages, often with men in their fifties. Many reasons exist for these physically and psychologically scarring arrangements, some harder to explain than others. A reporter named Stephanie Sinclair photographed situations of many girls’ lives as child brides, and Cynthia Gorney, who narrated the story into the short film at the showing. In addition, Hanna Ingber Win and Anna Tomasulo (SPH ’11) covered the consequences of child marriage in Nepal for the Washington-based Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
These women told a hard story to tell–difficult for us to understand or even imagine and
an effort for them to explain what needed to be understood to do the story justice. When each woman spoke, the points came through clearly.
One reason girls are married off young is because some families simply cannot feed everyone. Sometimes alliances need to be made between families, or a debt must be paid. In some countries, women are second-class citizens and sold like cattle, the youngest virgins fetching the highest price. In other areas, women cannot be taught by men and must quit school, marrying young and perpetuating the vicious cycle.
The reasons ostensibly seem simple enough; however, in most cases, parents truly believe they providing the best option for their daughters in young marriages, ensuring their daughters’ survival as well as upholding their family’s honor. To continue education, to remain unmarried, to stand alone as an older female in the isolated villages means to subject that girl to potential rape and disgrace, abuse, and death.
Though sometimes death comes with the marriage, too. Pictures and films displayed teen girls, children even, with lacerations, holes where noses used to be, and many deaths–burned alive, beaten, slashed, the list goes on. Yet while families condone these practices through the young marriage, the reporters specifically made clear that many others within the same villages did not.
The reporters, especially Cynthia, found ways to work through people in the community to promise as a community to stop these young marriages, educating them of the loss of their daughters or future grandchildren through problematic births and other complications. Senegal was an example.
“The important thing is to work with the whole community, not just one family,” said Cynthia. “When you work with just one family, you isolate it from the rest of the people. However, when you work with the whole community, you keep the community together, which strengthens the power of change.”