Pieces of a childhood

Here are the first and second prizewinners from the UNICEF Photo of the Year award for 2007.

First Prize: Child Brides [photo: Stephanie Sinclair]

Meet the Afghani newlyweds. He, Faiz, is forty and she, Ghulam, is eleven. “We needed the money”, Ghulam’s parents said. Faiz claims he is going to send her to school. But the women of Damarda village in Afghanistan’s Ghor province know better: “Our men don’t want educated women.” They predict that Ghulam will be married within a few weeks after her engagement in 2006, so as to bear children for Faiz.

Early marriages are not only a problem in Afghanistan: worldwide there are about 51 million girls aged between 15 and 19 years who are forced into marriage. The youngest brides live in the Indian state of Rajasthan, where 15% of all wives are not even 10 years old when they are married. Child marriages are a reaction to extreme poverty and mainly take place in Asian and African regions where poor families see their daughters as a burden and as second-class citizens. Already in their younger years, girls are given into the “care” of a husband, a tradition that often leads to exploitation. Many girls become victims of domestic violence. In an Egyptian survey, about one-third of the interviewed child brides stated that they were beaten by their husbands. The young brides are under pressure to prove their fertility as soon as possible. But the risk for girls between the ages of 10 and 14 not to survive pregnancy is five times higher than for adult women. Every year, about 150,000 pregnant teenagers die due to complications – in particular due to a lack of medical care, let alone sex education.

Second Prize: Child Labourer [photo: G.M.B. Akash]

Child Labour is pervasive in Bangladesh and it is not uncommon to see children working in all kinds of labour from domestic servants to factory labourers.

According to UNICEF estimates, about 3.3 million children in Bangladesh are involved in child labor – almost 20% of the working population, despite efforts during the 1990s to ban child labor in the textile industry. Many children are forced to carry out hazardous work with dangerous chemicals in paint shops, workshops and tanneries. A child worker receives 60 Taka per day (less than 1 Dollar), about one-third of the regular wage for adults. Factory owners prefer to employ children, thereby keeping trade unions out of their factories. By entering the labor market at such an early age, children have no chance of getting an education and consequently no chance of getting better-paid jobs.

Eid Mubarak and a Happy Christmas to the children who are not going to be sharing in the joy of the festivities, who’s lives have been blighted by forced marriage, child labour and abuse.

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