Unicef Photo of the Year – Child Brides

December 19, 2007 | By | 16 Replies More

The “Unicef Photo of the Year 2007” is this picture by American photographer Stephanie Sinclair of an 11-year old Afghan girl sitting next to her 40-year old soon-to-be-husband.

Unicef Photo of the Year 2007, 1. Prize, Stephanie Sinclair

Photo caption:

Portrait of soon to be wed Faiz Mohammed, 40, and Ghulam Haider, 11, at her home in a rural village of Damarda in Ghor province. Ghulam said she is sad to be getting engaged as she wanted to be a teacher. Her favorite class was Dari, the local language, before she was made to drop out of school. Married girls are seldom found in school, limiting their economic and social opportunities. Parents sometimes remove their daughters from school to protect them from the possibility of sexual activity outside of wedlock. It is hard to say exactly how many young marriages take place, but according to the Afghan women’s ministry and women’s NGOs, approximately 57 percent of Afghan girls get married before the legal age of 16. In addition, once the girl’s father has agreed to the engagement, she is pulled out of school immediately. Early pregnancies also result in an increase in complications during child birth.

From the Unicef website:

He’s forty, she’s eleven. And they are a couple – the Afghan man Mohammed F.* and the child Ghulam H.*. “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.

To download a zipfile with the images of the award winning photographers from the UNICEF website click here. The other entries are also worth taking a look at.

In such marriages, the man is likely to view the age difference as a fair bargain, his years of experience in exchange for her years of fecundity. At the same time, the girl’s wishes are customarily disregarded. Her marriage will end her opportunities for schooling and independent work.

On the day she witnessed the engagement party of 11-year-old Ghulam Haider to 40-year-old Faiz Mohammed, Sinclair discreetly took the girl aside. “What are you feeling today?” the photographer asked. “Nothing,” the bewildered girl answered. “I do not know this man. What am I supposed to feel?”


This is a beautiful picture, it’s good photography, but the girl in the picture is a kid and she’s going to marry this man who will rape her and make her have babies although her body is not ready, although she hardly understands what is going on, although she is hoping for something else in her life. Something is wrong here.

Whenever I hear people talk “politically correct” and claim to respect cultural differences even in the face of barbaric traditions like these I don’t think they are liberals, I think they are stupid and cowards. I remember a case here where a Turkish man poured gasoline over his wife and set her on fire. The judge’s opinion was that this was a cultural thing and an extenuating cause. I don’t know what would have happened in a Turkish court, but marital rape is a crime in Turkey (it took a while, but still):

Also praiseworthy was the enactment of new legislation, including the law on the protection of the family, by which domestic violence had been legally defined for the first time, and the anticipated entry into force this year of the new Penal Code, which, for the first time, criminalized marital rape and sexual harassment in the workplace.


I wonder where people get the notion that “different culture” (or maybe I should say, “Islamic culture”) means living like animals and that people have no sense of wrong doing.

I often heard men complain about feminism (especially American men, by the way), even women make statements like “I’m not a feminist by nature” (meaning: unlike you I’m so supersuccessful with men – *yawn*) or “I’m not a feminist. I’m supersexual and feminine, I’m self-confident and well-educated with a college degree” (then take a good look at countries like Afghanistan and see where you might be without feminism), but when you see a picture like this you know they should shut up and that feminism is still a worthy cause.


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Category: Culture, photography, The Middle East

About the Author ()

I studied Horticulture, so officially I'm an agricultural engineer, but I'm doing something completely different at the moment. I want to get back into this field though. "Projektleiterin" is German and means project leader. My mom sometimes calls me like this for fun, because as a kid I used to start many many knitting projects very enthusiastically and then had trouble finishing them. On my knitting blog you can see proof that I'm now a much better person than I used to be. :D It may sound funny to those who don't knit, but while knitting is certainly a creative and pleasurable activity, it also teaches you perseverance and discipline. I'm also an extreme sucker for compliments on my knitting, so don't hold back! :D I'm never really sure what to tell people when they ask me where I'm from. Usually I say, "I grew up in Germany, but originally I'm from Asia." I think I'm quite conservative at heart, but liberal by choice. Oh, and be a bit forgiving if you read my posts - English is not my native language.

Comments (16)

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  1. Vicki Baker says:

    Here's an idea that addresses a bunch of development issues at once: pay parents in less developed countries to send their daughters to school.

    The Benefits of Educating Girls and Subsidizing Families to Do It

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Because it is not possible that this little girl has been a meaningful part of this decision to "marry" a 40-year old man, then she is being treated like a piece of property. We barter dogs here in the U.S. Therefore, Ghulam is being treated like a dog. The statistics you cite are further proof that the "groom" bought himself a portable womb.

    I feel such sadness for that little girl. Her early marriage, combined with her inability to continue her education, pretty much mean that she has no say in how she will live her life.

  3. I saw some comments on the internet yesterday, where people said things like, "So, that's our justification to bomb their countries and kill their kids?" or "This is typical colonialist mentality." and it really bothered me. People would rather be called inhuman, than racist. As a counterreaction to colonialism and racism people have embraced the theory that anything ethnic is good and any kind of criticism of foreign traditions is bad. The natural reaction in the face of injustice, to say, "No, this is not right!", is being suppressed because the fear of being called intolerant, narrow-minded, not liberal is greater. People have fluffy ideas about respect toward the traditions of minorities although they might be better served to ask those who experience these traditions in real if they truly enjoy them. This 11 year old girl does and is not only philosophizing about it. She probably would not mind if it were to be abolished as soon as possible. Does her opinion not count? Do only the people who impose this tradition on her, who violate her rights, deserve respect?

  4. Vicki Baker says:


    We have to be realistic that stories like this are used to justify our invasion and bombing, even though our government is good at ignoring or condoning human rights violations when it suits its agenda. We have to be realistic that depictions of other cultures that portray the other as somehow sub-human, can be used to justify military aggression that has other aims than improving the lot of the invaded and colonized people. "These people have no respect for human life, so we can also value their lives cheaply," is the subtext of colonialism.

    We also have to be realistic about how much social change can be enforced at gunpoint. Our military interventions have not really improved the lot of most Afghan women, and have led to a deterioration of women's rights in Iraq.

    What would our foreign policy look like if we really were interested in improving the lives of people like this girl? What would our development organizations, our science and technology institutions, look like if we spent as much money researching effective human development solutions as we do inventing bigger and better weapons?

  5. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I think something should be clarified here. These types of marriages are not condoned in most Islamic nations. You may notice that the article mentions the legal age of consent as being 16.

    This is actually a common practice in many feudalistic societies. The weddings are aranged by the parents for a dowry (compensation of some sort). This is the same system that was common in China untill only a few decades ago.

    The point I'm making here is that both the girls parents and the man are breaking the laws of the country, laws that were enacted by an Islamic government. This sort of thing is common in Saudi Arabia, but since they are our allies, it isn't news and oddly enough. there is no outrage.

    There was a case in the news a few years ago whereby, according to religious belief, a man claimed the right to have as many wives as he wanted. His "wives" ranged in ages from mid thirties to 8 years old. He claimed to be Christian, and quoted parts of the old testament as proof of his rights. This happen in America. The man was David Koresh. Does this mean that all Christians believe tin this kind of behavior? No. Does it mean that all Americans support this idea? Not hardly.

    The fact is that these type of arranged marriages between prepubescent girls and men old enough to be their grandfathers happen all the time, but it is only considered newsworthy if the man is representative of a country or culture our media has labeled as "Evil".

    The travesty here is that it is okay with the American media when it occurs in a "friendly" nation. UNICEF has documented child brides throughout the world but the media uses one instance to demonize a nationality and a religion to to make it easier on the collective conscience of the American people to justify killing others.

  6. Hold on here. I have never said that I see the invasion of other countries as an appropriate mean and I have never said that this was an Islamic tradition. This is what I mean, people just jump to conclusion, you are not allowed to criticize anything unless you have repeated a thousand times that you are against war and that you are not against Islam. The comments on the other blog were of the same kind (although pretty rude). You're not going to tell me that I believe that Bush invaded Iraq, because he is such a great humanist or that the US is in Afghanistan in order to liberate the women there, are you?

    Vicky, I know what colonialism means. The country where I am from originally was a former colony and I'm not fond of people with the attitude of colonialists. Nevertheless, sexism is just what it is, sexism, and it should not be excused with "traditions". Critizing sexism in other cultures is not the same as suggesting a new era of colonialism, although the majority of people seems to equate these two.

    And Niklaus, a) UNICEF is not American, it belongs to the UN. And given that the US are not really fond of the UN I doubt that UNICEF agenda is an American one. b) I am not American either, so if I was biased it is not due to American media. c) I'm sure this picture has been covered in the media all over the world, not only by the American ones.

  7. Vicki Baker says:

    Peace! I'm not saying you're advocating invading bombing and invading, but we have to do something other than just disapprove. We have to do something other than just offer charity bandaids. And that might mean taking a hard serious look at our own priorities. If Afghanistan follows the model of globalization in other underdeveloped countries, Ghulam will have the choice between working in a sweatshop or become part of the global human trafficking network. What an improvement!

  8. Here's an article about the situation of Turkish women in German courts: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,151

    Here is an article about the man who burned his wife (it's in German though):


    He says a lot of disgusting stuff about his wife, like, "I watched with satisfaction as her face burnt." The article doesn't say anything about the verdict, but I remember that he was also excused by the judge for being a member of a different culture.

  9. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Part of my point is that UNICEF, as an internation organization, has no allegience to the corporate run American government. The NY Times article, from which the cut-lines are taken, mentions only the countries with followers of Islam in the population that have some economic importance to the US government and multinational corporations. The UNICEF study shows that the practice is much more widespread than just western Asia and north Africa, and is not limited to that part of the world. It is also common in areas of South America, in countries that are predominently Christian.

  10. But Vicky, you are not even allowed to disapprove, that's my point. And well, your post did prove it. The first reaction always seems to be "So, you think the solution is to kill them?"

    Nikolaus, I just cited the NY Times, because it's in English. I did not choose it because it focused on Islamic countries. As I said in my first post, I may not know how Turkish courts implement the law against marital rape, but at least it exists, so if a man runs around and burns his wife, I really doubt he would get away there with the excuse that he is from a different culture with different values and has problems with integration. And yes, I know, Turkey is a secular state, but some people just count it as another Islamic culture where men just do what they want to do.

  11. Vicki Baker says:

    PL, you're allowed to do whatever you want, However, if you want to help girls like Ghulam and do something about both traditional and modern forms of human trafficking and slavery, there are going to be some things that are effective and other things that are not. I refuse to take comfort in merely disapproving of a "backward" culture and wishing they would just be more like "us."

  12. Let me just disapprove once in a while without having a clever solution at hand that would resolve everything with the push of a button. And in order to be able to develop a solution for a problem you must be allowed to say that something is a problem.

  13. Vicki Baker says:

    I guess I feel that it's OK for me to criticize, as long as it doesn't make me feel better. Sorry to impose that on you.

  14. grumpypilgrim says:

    What I find interesting about the above post is that, in the rest of the animal world, mating begins promptly after sexual maturity occurs; but humans are not considered suitable for parenthood until several years after we reach sexual maturity. I've often wondered how the 'intelligent design' folks would explain this — why God 'designed' us to reach sexually maturity so many years prematurely. Carrying this tangent one step farther, I've also wondered how they would explain why God made our eyes go bad sometime between our 40th & 50th birthdays, even though we routinely live well beyond age 50. Seems an odd thing to design a human to live, according to the Bible, 900+ years, yet give us eyes that only last about 45. For instance, I wonder how Noah, who was reportedly more than 500 years old at the time of the Flood, managed to see well enough to build the Ark, given that his eyesight would have failed several centuries earlier.

    As regards child brides, I don't mean to condone the practice, but I do caution that western cultural mores don't necessarily translate to the Third World. It is possible that women in the above-mentioned culture have less use for a schoolroom education than they have for an older husband. I'm not saying this is good, merely that it might be the current reality. Something to consider, at least, before we attack the practice, as difficult as it might be for us to stomach.

  15. Erich Vieth says:

    The Taliban policy of keeping girls out of school was based on a very strong cultural prohibition against having women mix with unrelated men. Those traditions still define large swaths of Afghan society–even in urban areas like Kabul. "My family says that they would rather I be illiterate than be taught by a man," says Yasamin Rezzaie, 18, who is learning dressmaking at a women's center in Kabul. Her parents refused to let her go to her neighborhood school because some of the teachers are male. Both her parents are illiterate, and they don't see the need for her to learn to read when the risk of meeting unrelated men is so high.

    . . .

    "In Afghan culture, women are seen as the repository of family honor, and the education of girls–whether in terms of the design of school buildings or in the way in which classes are conducted–needs to reflect that reality," says Matt Waldman, the Afghan policy adviser for Oxfam, which released a damning report in 2006 on the state of education in Afghanistan. It shows that the ratio of boys to girls in primary school is roughly 2 to 1, but by the time girls enter secondary school (and puberty), the ratio drops to four boys for every girl. In more than 80% of rural districts, there are no girls in secondary school at all. Overall, only 10% of girls in school actually obtain a diploma.

    From Time Magazine – full article at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,…

  16. Seems like Germany is not the only country where people turn a blind eye to honor killings in order not to appear racist.

    According to official figures, 10 to 12 women are murdered in Britain in honour killings each year, but the government has been warned by MPs that this is a serious underestimate. Police often record the deaths as cases of domestic violence, while other girls are driven to suicide or taken away to their family's country of origin and never seen again.

    The study criticises the police and schools for failing to take action in a misguided attempt to avoid offending cultural sensibilities.

    "Police have a long way to go before they get on top of honour crime. There is a lingering fear among officers of being dubbed racist for probing cultural issues. We've got to shake off that myth," she said.


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