• Portrait of child bride and mother Tisate Banda, 15, with her 5-month- old daughter. Tisate dreams of becoming a teacher. But she was married at 14 and became a mother not long after. Now estranged from her much-older husband, she has an infant to tend to. Her education is on hold. In Tisate’s hometown of Katete, a small town in the Eastern Province of Zambia, girls like her are the rule rather than the exception, according to Ruth Zalimba Mukande, who works for SWAAZ, the Society for Women and AIDS in Zambia. In an effort to educate communities about the widespread dangers associated with child marriage and encourage them to halt the practice, the African Union launched its Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa in 2014. Since then, the effort has attracted a burgeoning roster of child advocates, from government officials and religious authorities to traditional leaders and former child brides—all bent on serving as champions of change in Africa.
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  • Portrait of Angeline Yiamiton Siparo, a nonprofit worker from Kenya. For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Champions leading to end child marriage in Africa
  • Portrait of Chieftainess Mwenda of Chikankata district in Zambia. Changing long-standing traditions requires buy-in from traditional leaders, says Chieftainess Mwenda, whose chiefdom covers a 270-square-mile area about 100 miles south of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city. To shore up that kind of support, she’s pursued a grassroots campaign, recruiting some 400 “care and prevention leaders”—health workers, teachers, peer educators and local luminaries—to lobby the people of her district against gender-based violence and child marriage. “There is power in the chieftaincy,” said Mwenda, who uses that leverage to pursue what she calls a “zero tolerance” policy on child marriage in her region. “We the leaders should tell them, ‘No, it is not,’” she said. “It’s an abrogation of every human right imaginable. It has no place in civilized society.” Change is slow, and Mwenda said her advocates don’t win every argument. “But we keep pushing with the knowledge that someday, our tenacity will bear fruit,” she said. In an effort to educate communities about the widespread dangers associated with child marriage and encourage them to halt the practice, the African Union launched its Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa in 2014. Since then, the effort has attracted a burgeoning roster of child advocates, from government officials and religious authorities to traditional leaders and former child brides—all bent on serving as champions of change in Africa.
  • Portrait of Chief Chikumbu of Mulanje, Malawi. For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
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  • Portrait of Matthias Phiri, Program Coordinator for LifeSavers Zambia. In communities outside Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka, Matthias Phiri meets regularly with traditional leaders, faith-based organizations, school and police officials, and other prominent locals to strategize ways to combat child marriage. Members of his ever-growing circle keep an eye out for children who are at risk of getting married and intervene if necessary, pulling vulnerable children out of harm’s way, providing them counseling, re-enrolling them in school and, in some cases, pursuing legal remedies against the perpetrators of child marriage. The biggest challenge, he said, is the discord between the country’s statutory laws, which set the minimum marriage age at 21, and its customary laws, which allow for much greater latitude. Recognizing that conflict, Zambia’s government launched a campaign in 2013 to end child marriage, focusing primarily on engaging traditional leaders in that effort. “According to the custom, maybe in one chiefdom, a child can be anybody, maybe 6 or maybe 28. As long as you have a father, you have a mother, you are a child of somebody,” said Phiri. “So we need to attach age, and we need to harmonize this legislation . . . so that we can use that law to champion the fight against child marriage.” For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
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  • Portrait of Amina Alliy. Amina Alliy isn’t sure “marriage” is the right word to denote a union between a child and an adult. “If a girl at the age of 15 is forced to be with an older man, it’s not actually a marriage because a marriage is supposed to be an agreement between consenting adults,” says Alliy, who works for a nonprofit NGO that campaigns against child marriage, gender-based violence and female genital mutilation. “In this case, there is no consent. That cannot be a marriage. That is a misnomer.” Regardless of the verbiage, talking about the practice with a broad cross-section of stakeholders is key to eradicating it, said Alliy. That means engaging with government and traditional leaders, men and women, civil society, everyone from senior citizens to young people. In Tanzania, girls can legally marry at the age of 15 and some 37 percent of them are brides before their 18th birthdays. Lawyers need to toughen those laws, and locals need to follow them, she said. “It should be a partnership where everybody’s involved,” she said, adding that political will is important but “it has to carry the cooperation of the people as well. And this is the key to all this campaign.” In an effort to educate communities about the widespread dangers associated with child marriage and encourage them to halt the practice, the African Union launched its Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa in 2014. Since then, the effort has attracted a burgeoning roster of child advocates, from government officials and religious authorities to traditional leaders and former child brides—all bent on serving as champions of change in Africa.
  • Meaza Ashenafi, Advisor on Women’s Human Rights for the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and founding executive director of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association. Aberash Bekele’s rapist was following local Ethiopian tradition when he kidnapped the 14-year-old girl on her way home from school, sexually assaulted her and then declared that she would become his wife. But the teen fought back, shooting and killing her abductor as she escaped. For her courage, she was jailed and charged with murder. Ethiopian attorney Meaza Ashenafi successfully defended the teenager, a tale that inspired the 2014 film “Difret.” Now an adviser on women’s human rights for the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Ashenafi knows that most efforts to advocate for women and girls are unlikely to end up on the big screen. Advocacy at the grassroots level—in schools, town halls and community forums—is as much a catalyst for change as headlines and high-level debate, she said. “Change comes from within,” said Ashenafi. “All big social problems need multiple levels of intervention. There is no, you know, silver bullet to solve the problem. It also takes time.” “Africa is a big continent, and it’s very difficult to talk uniformly about the progress. But there is hope,” she said. “Because this is 2015, and we shouldn’t be talking about child marriage, female genital mutilation . . .. We should be talking about development, investment, technology, women’s participation in leadership.” For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Sokona Tounkara, a youth activist from Mali. Mali is one of nine governments that have officially launched the African Union’s Campaign to End Child Marriage, and none too soon. Though the minimum legal age of marriage for girls in the country is 18, the UNFPA reports that 55 percent of girls are married before that. Sokona Tounkara watched friends as young as 11 become child brides. “I have a lot of friends who have been victims of child marriage,” said Tounkara, a youth activist with AJCAD, the Youth Association for Active Citizenship and Democracy. Her organization uses radio, TV and social media to advocate for child rights and access to reproductive health services and educate children and their parents about the dangers of child marriage. The group’s members travel to different cities, where they use art, music and drama to encourage families to talk about difficult but important topics. At first, she said, parents shied away from these conversations and urged their children to avoid AJCAD’s community events. “But now, we have parents who attend our events and they even participate in the debate,” she said. “Sometimes, when we do our evaluations of our program, we invite parents and children to discuss and give them the space to explain the effect of child marriage and forced marriage to their daughters.” For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Zilekha Moctar Diphane, Chad's Minister of Women & Protection of Children. In March 2015, Chad’s government raised the minimum age of marriage to 18 and officially launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage. In urban areas, people understand the dangers of child marriage and female genital mutilation, said Zilekha Moctar Diphane, the country’s deputy director of Women’s Rights & Legislation. Still, the country’s child marriage rate remains one of the highest in the world at 72 percent. “The challenge is in rural regions, in the countryside,” said Diphane. “People, they’re still not really conscious about what is happening. We are working on the ground to push them to stop this [from] happening.” In an effort to educate communities about the widespread dangers associated with child marriage and encourage them to halt the practice, the African Union launched its Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa in 2014. Since then, the effort has attracted a burgeoning roster of child advocates, from government officials and religious authorities to traditional leaders and former child brides—all bent on serving as champions of change in Africa.
  • Portrait of Meha Jouini, of Morocco. She is the communication assistant for the African Union's End Child Marriage Campaign in Africa. For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Chief Madzimawe of the Ngoni speaking people in Chipata, in the Eastern Mwenda Chikankata of the Eastern Province of Zambia. Retrieving young girls from forced marriages remains a large problem in the Eastern Province, said Chief Madzimawe, but even more troubling is the lack of “safe houses” to bring them to once they’ve been rescued. As an example, the chief noted that in October 2015, his own mother gave shelter to a young escaped bride because she had nowhere else to go. He said he’d like to see community-run shelters established in every sub-district, where girls could find a safe haven and receive counseling. “They need counseling so that they are integrated back into the community fully counseled, and they are not going to feel as if they are different species from another planet,” he said. If you send them back to their families “haunted by household poverty,” nothing will change, he said. For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of First Lady of South Africa Thobeka Madiba Zuma. No one should be able to “hide” behind cultural traditions as an excuse for hurting girls, Zuma said. “I would not say get rid of culture, but the culture should not be the platform and the instrument which they use to practice this,” she said. In an effort to educate communities about the widespread dangers associated with child marriage and encourage them to halt the practice, the African Union launched its Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa in 2014. Since then, the effort has attracted a burgeoning roster of child advocates, from government officials and religious authorities to traditional leaders and former child brides—all bent on serving as champions of change in Africa.
  • Portrait of Isatou Jeng, a founding member of The Girls’ Agenda, a youth-led movement established in 2011 by the young, for the young in The Gambia. When Isatou Jeng became pregnant as a teenager, her uncles urged her to get married. Her mother, however, insisted that Jeng return to school—which is what she did, ultimately earning a college degree in political science. Jeng said she and her fellow advocates encourage girls to pursue their educations and delay marriage, and they’re starting to see results. “With the work of young women’s rights organizations like mine, we are engaging schools, both primary schools and secondary schools, empowering them to understand the importance of education in their lives—not to get to grade 12 and then decide to get married because that’s just the beginning of everything,” Jeng said. “So now more girls are determined to pursue higher education, and that is actually having an effect, a positive effect, on reducing the prevalence rate of child marriage in the Gambia.” For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Mariama Mohamed Cisse, Secretary of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) from Niger. Three out of every four girls in Mariama Mohamed Cisse’s home country of Niger are married before their 18th birthdays. When parents ask her why they shouldn’t marry their daughters young, she points to herself. “I say, ‘Listen, you see where I am now? I am a diplomat. I am working for an international organization. If I had been married at an early age, I would not become today [the person] you people are coming to to ask for help, to ask for advice. It’s because I was not a victim of child marriage and that my father, my mother pushed me to continue my studies that I reached this stage. So I should be an example for you.’ ” For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Zambian First Lady Esther Lungu. Providing funding to raise awareness about child marriage and to support programs that empower girls, particularly in the rural areas, is the first step toward ending the practice, says Esther Lungu, first lady of Zambia. “If we take the leap and we advocate for this to end—not even negotiating for it to be reduced, but to be ended—we’re creating awareness in our communities, especially in the rural areas because that’s where this is happening,” she said. For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Sarah Abdelmohsen, Youth Officer for the African Union from Egypt. “The youth need to be empowered economically, and girls should get good health [care], and should have access to reproduction health and access to education also.” For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Judith Ann Mwila, of Zambia and World Family Organization Vice-President for Communication and Public Relation Affairs. “We want families to know that there’s a place where they can go to get guidance on whether to avoid child marriage. It’s true that some parents have been forced to marry off their children as a result of poverty. And now, we are actually working on a project with Heifer where families that are poor like that . . . they will be empowered with some livestock so that they can educate their children instead of marrying them off. “One, we encourage them to keep the girls in school and, two, to find ways for them to generate income so they don’t have to think if they marry off a child, they will have more money. Because it’s not marrying off that brings the money. It’s for them to generate income.” For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Sarah Abdelmohsen, Youth Officer for the African Union from Egypt. “The youth need to be empowered economically, and girls should get good health [care], and should have access to reproduction health and access to education also.” For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Dr. Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko, the Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union Commission. For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Reggae musician Jimmy Simukoko aka Ras Jimmy from Zambia. “When we come as musicians to play, when people come to watch the entertainment, they also get the message. And from there they learn. First they like the instruments. When they like the instruments, they will again want to start listening to the message in the music.” For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Dr. Laouali Aissatou Abdou, secretary general with the Ministry of Population, Promotion of Women & Child Protection, Niger. “We think and we believe that the only way to end child marriage is to maintain girls in school. The challenge is that everything in our local homes is made by women. Breads to making clothes to bringing the water, everything. So we are trying to provide them machines at home, which give the women more time to get the chance to study because all the work is done by women.” For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of the Dr. Haliru Yahaya, the emir of Shonga (Kwara State) in Northern Nigeria. For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Nkandu Luo, Zambian Minister of Gender and Child Development. For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Dr. Fatima Delladj-Sebaa of Algeria, Special Rapporteur on Child Marriage for African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage. “The question of ending child marriage, it’s not related to a political decision only. It’s also related to our mentality, to behavior. And it takes a long time to convince people to stop child marriage. . . . If it was a war, an armed conflict, we can stop it by political decision. But, when it is related to social practices, it takes three generations at least because it’s related to our attitudes, which makes the issue more and more complex and difficult.” For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.
  • Portrait of Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, General Secretary of the World Young Women’s Christian Association and Goodwill Ambassador of for the Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa. “Child marriage, these girls are not a graph in somebody’s pie chart. They are hurting now and they have potential now and they can be successful. So that’s what drives me, just to know that it’s a wonderful opportunity that we have to unleash . . . millions of human resources.” For a portrait series on champions leading to end child marriage in Africa. All images made at the first-ever African Girls’ Summit on Ending Child Marriage, held in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting aimed to facilitate exchange of good practices and challenges in ending child marriage, and to secure and renew commitments from African stakeholders.

In an effort to educate communities about the widespread dangers associated with child marriage and encourage them to halt the practice, the African Union launched its Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa in 2014. Since then, the effort has attracted a burgeoning roster of child advocates, from government officials and religious authorities to traditional leaders and former child brides —all bent on serving as champions of change in Africa.

Portrait series created for Too Young to Wed with generous support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.