This Valentine's Day, I don’t want flowers. I want a future.
10 February 2017
Every day, tens of thousands of girls become child brides. What happens when girls are allowed to dream up a different future?
Heba, 11, fled the fighting in Mosul. In her camp, she overhears parents talk about marrying off their daughters. But she dreams of being an architect: “I’m going to build a house just like this for my family.”
© Vincent Tremeau / Interview by Corinne Redfern
For Valentine's Day, photographer Vincent Tremeau went to Nepal and Iraq to find out what at-risk girls want to be when they grow up.
It is part of Mr. Tremeau’s ongoing “One Day I Will” project, in which children make costumes depicting their future ambitions. Punita, 14, in Nepal, wants to be a teacher. “All of my sisters had to leave school by year seven to get married, so I’m determined to keep studying for as long as possible and get a great job – just to show the world that one of us could do it.”
© Vincent Tremeau / Interview by Corinne Redfern
If current trends continue, an estimated 70 million girls will become child brides over the next five years.
“Thinking about what I’d like to do makes me feel sad, because I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to do it," said Rupali, 17, in Nepal. She wants to be a tailor. "I’ve been married for five years – since I was 12 – but I haven’t gone to live with my husband yet.”
© Vincent Tremeau / Interview by Corinne Redfern
Child marriages are fueled by poverty, insecurity and gender inequality. In Iraq, Malak’s sisters were married off at ages 13 and 14 to protect them from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS or Daesh).
“They risked being taken by Daesh and forced to marry their soldiers instead,” said Malak, 11. She dreams of owning a chocolate factory: “I just really like chocolate.”
© Vincent Tremeau / Interview by Corinne Redfern
A 2014 survey in Nepal found that nearly half of adult women were married while still children.
“It’s women who suffer violence, not men. And it’s girls who get married when they’re 12 or 13, not boys,” said Maya, 14, from Baluhaw, Nepal. She wants to open a noodle shop: “There will be queues of people out the door, and nobody will ever complain about any of our products – service with a smile will be my motto.”
© Vincent Tremeau / Interview by Corinne Redfern
Child brides are often pressured to become mothers before they are emotionally or physically ready. Globally, complications of pregnancy are a leading killer of adolescent girls.
“My best friend was married at 16, and died while she was giving birth the year after,” said Sirjana, 18, in Nepal. She wants to be a social worker: “Social workers make life easier for people who have very tough lives, and that’s something I’d like to do.”
© Vincent Tremeau / Interview by Corinne Redfern
These marriages deprive girls of something irretrievable: their childhoods.
“That happens a lot around here and it makes me feel scared, like I’m going to be next,” said Damya, 11, from Iraq. She wants to be a tailor: "My aunt was a tailor and she told me that if I could learn to sew things, then I’d always be able to help people, because people always need clothes.”
© Vincent Tremeau / Interview by Corinne Redfern
Teaching girls about their human rights is a critical first step towards ending this practice.
UNFPA supports programmes that make communities aware of the harms of child marriage and that teach girls their rights. Halaz, 14, a refugee from Syria, wants to dedicate her life to defending these rights. “I’m not going to become just any kind of lawyer – I’m going to become a human rights lawyer, and I’ll work for free to defend anyone who’s facing problems during wars and conflicts.”
© Vincent Tremeau / Interview by Corinne Redfern
Girls must also be educated and empowered to advocate for themselves.
“When we were living under Daesh, we couldn’t do anything we wanted to do. They were doing a lot of bad things,” said Nufa, 12, of Abali, Iraq. “But my aunt taught me that the best way to fight back against that is to keep doing the things that you love. I love making things the most, so when I grow up I’m going to crochet and sew things all the time.”
© Vincent Tremeau / Interview by Corinne Redfern
When girls are valued, when their rights are upheld, and when they have access to school and health care, there is no limit to what they can achieve.
“My father says that he wants me to grow up so that I’m not dependent on a man, and my mother feels the same way. That’s why I might not get married at all,” said Monika, 15, from Hatyahu, Nepal. She wants to be a doctor.
© Vincent Tremeau / Interview by Corinne Redfern