Thirteen stolen smiles

Child marriage stories from Eastern Cameroon

2016


Thirteen Stolen Smiles is a story raising awareness of child marriage. Photographed in Eastern Cameroon in 2016, it looks at the experience of four young girls (Elisabeth, Mirabelle, Mariam and Delphine) married or promised for marriage at the age of 13.
In addition to its focus on an issue of social concern, the series blends portraiture with details of features or pieces of fabric, as if to create a proximity between the photographed young girls and the viewer. It also presents multiple interpretations of home from indoor spaces to desolate ruins left in the village, almost as a metaphor for a life’s journey poised between loss, of innocence, of one’s freedom, and the resilience of those teen mothers now carers of even younger lives.


13 years old and a whole life ahead of you, with the hope to become a doctor and save the life of those who suffer the most.

13 years old, the first tentative steps into romance, the innocent games played outside of school with their first true friends and aspirations for a better future.

13 years old the first songs full of dreams, the first books taken heart.

For some 13 years old though, life bears no resemblance. In Gado, Cameroon, about 50 km from the border of Central African Republic in the East of Cameroon, girls of just 13 years old, still pure and developing physically have a steely gaze full of sadness; these girls are to be given away in marriage and forced to leave school.

Elisabeth, Mariam, Delphine and Mirabelle each began their journey in different circumstances. Elisabeth and Mariam were forced to flee their respective countries to escape the ravages of war seeking shelter and protection from two families whom, in spite of their generosity, still adhere to tradition and have given them up for marriage, aged 13 years old. In contrast Delphine and Mirabelle have already had to leave their education in order to live and work in their given husband's homes at the same age of 13. This an age at which most girls around the world are working toward building their future while enjoying the innocence and freedom that only childhood provides.


Violence against children is widespread in Cameroon. Girls are especially at risk in the East in refugee-hosting communities. In these emergency areas, children are exposed to abduction, family separation, rape and arbitrary detention. Child marriage continues to plague Cameroonian society while birth registration rates have declined over the years, depriving children of their right to identify, protection and access to services.

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