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The Young and the Betrothed

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Read Anna Badkhen's account of child grooms in Afghanistan.

More than 50 million girls under the age of 17 in developing countries are married; millions more are at risk of being forced into child marriages. The practice is rife in Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas. Photographer Stephanie Sinclair captured some of these young women. The image above was selected as UNICEF's "Photo of 2007."

Faiz Mohammed, 40, and Ghulam Haider, 11, sit in her family's home prior to their wedding in the rural village of Damarda, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2005. 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, which limits their economic and social opportunities. And parents sometimes remove their daughters from school to protect them from the possibility of sexual activity outside of wedlock -- which would virtually preclude their chances of getting a husband. Early pregnancies also result in an increase in complications during childbirth. 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. 

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Forced marriage is culturally acceptable in Afghanistan, where marriages can be used to pay debts or create social alliances between families. Daughters are often seen as an economic burden in this poverty-stricken country. Above, an Afghan bride walks with the groom to their wedding ceremony on Oct. 14, 2010, in Bamiyan.

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Bas Gul, 17, stands inside the women's shelter and safe house where she lives on Oct. 7, 2010, in Bamiyan. She was a child bride, forced to marry at age 11; after five years of marriage she ran away from her husband, a boy who was only five years her senior.

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Said Mohammed, 55, and Roshan Kasem, 8, on the day of their engagement in the village of Chavosh on Sept. 10, 2005. The father of the bride, Abdul Kasem, 60, said he is unhappy giving his daughter away at such a young age, but has no choice due to severe poverty.

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Not all Afghan brides are children. Friends and relatives escort groom Reza Ali Zada, 24, and his wife-to-be, Aqila Nazari, 21, back home after their engagement party at a banquet hall in Gebrail, a Hazara village on the outskirts of Herat on May 25, 2005. The couple had only met a few times before.

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An Afghan bride's mother and grandmother fasten an earring on Aug. 30, 2002, in Kabul. After the Taliban fled, marriage halls opened once again. On Fridays, beauty salons were filled with brides, hotels were jammed with young couples, and streets were packed with streams of cars, blaring their horns as Afghans rushed to get married after decades of war.

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An Afghan girl selling chewing gum stands next to a local beauty parlor waiting for customers on Oct. 17, 2010, in Kabul. Behind drawn curtains, isolated from men, Afghan women spend hours getting ready for engagement parties and weddings.

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A groom and bride walk along their village street to the family home where their ceremony will take place on Oct. 14, 2010, in Bamiyan.

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The bride's best friend, Meetra, awaits the arrival of the wedding party on Jan. 4, 2002, in Kabul.

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Policewoman Malalai Kakar arrests Janan, 35, after he tried to kill his 15-year-old wife Jamila in Kandahar on June 4, 2006. Jamila had fled to stay with her mother after enduring years of abuse from her husband and mother-in-law. Janan pursued his wife with the intention of killing her, but ended up stabbing Jamila's grandmother multiple times when she tried to protect her granddaughter. Jamila was engaged when she was only 1 year old; she was married at age 10. 

Kakar, the policewoman, was shot dead in 2008.

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Afghan brides sit during a mass marriage ceremony of 50 Afghan couples in Herat province on Aug. 7, 2009.

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Afghan bride Zahara, 24, gets ready for the wedding ceremony surrounded by female family members at a local beauty parlor on Oct. 14, 2010 in Bamiyan.

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Mejgon Amoni, 16, weeps in her room inside a shelter run by the Women's Activities & Social Services Association in Afghanistan, an NGO for Afghan women in Herat, on June 17, 2004. Amoni had been at the shelter for six months waiting to see whether extended family members would take her in; but in Afghan society, any woman who leaves the home of her husband is considered tainted. Amoni was sold by her father at age 11 to a 60-year-old man for two boxes of heroin. She was forced to lead a life of drug smuggling to survive until she escaped.

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