Can child marriage be stopped? One girl did and wants others in Indonesia to follow

A young actress plays the role of Giorgia, 10, forced to marry Paolo, 47, during a happening organised by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage, on 27 October, 2016 in Rome. (AFP)
Updated 30 August 2017
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Can child marriage be stopped? One girl did and wants others in Indonesia to follow

KUALA LUMPUR: In Sanita Rini’s village on the Indonesian island of Java, child brides were so common that girls who were not married by the time they turned 16 were labelled “old virgins.”
Like other parents in the village, Rini’s tried to marry her off — to a motorbike driver seven years her senior — as soon as she celebrated her 13th birthday.
“I was shocked. I cried, I was angry,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“I knew from my friends who married young, they can’t continue school, their life is over,” said Rini, now 22.
Rini’s story is not uncommon in Indonesia, which is among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest number of child brides, according to campaign group Girls Not Brides.
But she stopped her child marriage and now, along with a group of teenage girls, Rini is seeking to empower others to fight back through a new network, the Youth Coalition for Girls.
One in four girls marry before they turn 18 in Indonesia, according to the United Nations’ children agency UNICEF. On average over 3,500 Indonesian girls are married off every day.
Globally, 15 million girls become child brides each year, exposing them to greater risks of exploitation, sexual violence, domestic abuse and death in childbirth.
Campaigners say poverty and tradition continue to drive underage marriage in Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago in Southeast Asia with a population of 250 million people.
STRIKING A ‘DEAL’
The UN defines child marriage as a formal marriage or informal union before age 18. However in Indonesia, the minimum age a girl can wed is 16, and 19 for boys.
Rini said her father, a construction labor, and mother, who runs a grocery store from home, tried for two years to marry her to the man from her village to help the family’s finances.
The youngest of five siblings, Rini resisted and her parents eventually dropped the idea after she struck a “deal” with them.
“I asked my parents how much they have spent on me, for my education. I said I would repay them this money if they let me continue my studies. If they forced me to get married, they would not get a single cent,” she said.
The coalition hopes stories like Rini’s can inspire other girls to stand up for their rights on issues ranging from child marriage to sexual violence.
Launched in March, the group now has 180 members aged between 15 and 24 in 11 provinces across the archipelago who want to tackle gender equality through talks and book projects.
The coalition has a few survivors of child marriage and Rini, the group’s deputy head, said sharing their experiences help girls who are trapped to envision a different future. “I want to tell the girls, they are not alone. They have the power to say no,” she said.
The coalition also reaches out to parents to tell them the importance of education and encourage them to let their children continue their studies until at they are at least 18.
A university graduate, Rini has spoken about her experience in Japan and the Netherlands and her parents are proud of her.
The new coalition comes as women’s rights campaigners in Indonesia broaden their movement by engaging men and religious leaders.
In April, female Muslim clerics issued an unprecedented fatwa — a religious edict which is not legally binding but influential among Muslims — to declare underage marriage harmful and said its prevention was mandatory.
Rini admits the network is only in its infancy, but she hopes by taking this step, politicians will start engaging youths themselves when drafting policies and enacting laws.
“My dream is to see boys and girls in Indonesia enjoy their rights equally,” she said.


‘Atlas of Beauty’: A Romanian photographer captures images of female beauty that defy every stereotype

Updated 16 July 2018
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‘Atlas of Beauty’: A Romanian photographer captures images of female beauty that defy every stereotype

  • Since 2013, Mihaela Noroc has photographed over 2,000 women in more than 50 countries, listening to their stories and learning about their lives.
  • For Noroc, beauty is diversity. She believes each one of the “shining stars” in her book radiates dignity, strength and beauty. 

JEDDAH: We live in a world where female beauty standards vary but are all socially and culturally constructed. The Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc traveled that world with her camera and backpack, photographing women in their everyday surroundings and listening to their stories. The result is the “Atlas of Beauty.”

Since 2013, Noroc has photographed over 2,000 women in more than 50 countries, listening to their stories and learning about their lives.

“I noticed that there is a lot of pressure on women to look and behave a certain way,” she told Arab News.

“In some environments, it’s the pressure to look attractive. In others, on the contrary, it’s the pressure to look modest. But every woman should be free to explore her own beauty without feeling any pressure from marketing campaigns, trends or social norms.”

For Noroc, beauty is diversity. She believes each one of the “shining stars” in her book radiates dignity, strength and beauty. 

During her five-year odyssey, there have been tremendous ups and downs. Yet, with each country, Noroc never failed to tell the story of the woman in her photographs. Some countries were deemed dangerous — but she traveled there anyway. 

“In Afghanistan, I traveled in a remote area called Wakhan Corridor. The fighting was very close, condemning this place to total isolation,” she said. “People were living like their ancestors lived hundreds of years ago, so photography was a miracle for them. They were incredibly happy to see themselves in photos and I was invited to every home to photograph each member of the family.” 

Visiting North Korea, Noroc was accompanied by local guides as she walked the streets to get a glimpse of women in their daily routines as if nothing was out of the norm. 

“There is a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way, so sometimes it’s a struggle to be yourself, to make yourself accepted as you are. But I hope this project will encourage more women and men to follow their own path, to explore their own beauty without feeling constrained.”

Traveling as a backpacker introduced Noroc to all kinds of environments. She has captured beauty in Brazilian favelas, in an Iranian mosque, on the Tibetan plateau, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the Amazon rainforest, upscale neighborhoods of Paris, downtown New York and more. 

She focuses on photographing the environment around the women, and prefers to photograph their natural faces, without a lot of makeup.

Noroc also makes sure that she chats with her subjects while the photographs are being taken — she is an excellent conversationalist. 

Woman shopping at a market in Nampan, Myanmar.

“Many of the women I photograph are in front of a professional camera for the first time. This isn’t bad at all because they are more authentic. For even more authenticity, I always use natural light. Through my camera, I try to dive into their eyes and explore what’s inside.”

Each image is raw, colorful, delicate, intimate, striking and empowering. A Jordanian Bedouin grandmother sits with her children and grandchildren in the background, the woman’s deep wrinkles revealing her desert life living off the land.

Another image shows the resilience in the striking green eyes of a Syrian refugee with her two daughters in a camp in Greece. In Jodhpur, India, a young woman heads to the market in a vibrant fuchsia outfit and silver jewelry. 

“There is much love, beauty and compassion in the world and I see it with my own eyes. Yet a few sources of hate and intolerance can ruin all this. Many times, the victims of intolerance are women, and while on the road, I hear many heartbreaking stories,” she said.

Gauri, an Indian from Kolkata, India, sells splendid flower garlands at a Hindu temple. Female “bomberas” (firewomen) in Mexico City. Sisters Olga and Anya, street performers from Odessa, Ukraine. Eleonora, a ballerina from St. Petersburg, at one of the most prestigious dance schools in the world. A Mayan descendant in Guatemala donning a colorful dress and posing in her village. These are just some of the stories in the “Atlas of Beauty,” yet the journey is continuing since there are no limits to beauty in this world. 

“For me, beauty is diversity and it can teach us to be more tolerant. We are all very different, but through this project, I want to show that we are all part of the same family. We should create paths between us, not boundaries,” said Noroc.