Norway Arranges Child Bride Wedding to Send Powerful Message [UPDATE]
byKaitlin StanfordOct 07, 2014
On Saturday, October 11, a beautiful blonde bride will float down the aisle to meet her handsome groom at the other end. The two will exchange vows, the rings will be placed and they'll waltz off towards a new future together.
... Or so goes the story over on TheasBryllup.blogg.no, a Norwegian blog that has quickly become the most-visited site in the entire country.
How come? Here's the thing: The bride in question is 12—as in 12 years old—and the groom is 37. In the lead-up to the couple's wedding next week, the bride, Thea, will be blogging about her journey for all to read. How she feels about the big day; what she expects their life together to be like; whether she's nervous or excited.
And if all of that has left you feeling shocked and uncomfortable, it should.
The faux blog is all part of a campaign devoted to raising awareness about child marriage, which occurs at a far more alarming rate than most realize. In fact, according to the website Girls Not Brides, a girl below the age of 18 is married off every two seconds. (To put that in perspective, that's 15 million girls every year.) Even worse, the "bride" often has little, if any, say in the decision at all.
"Child marriage happens in many communities because that is the way things have always been," the site continues. "If a family refuses to give their child away in marriage, they can be considered outcasts among the rest of the society and the chances of finding a future husband for their daughters will decrease sharply."
And so, this year, a new campaign aims to highlight this disturbing reality in an alarming new way. The role of Thea was cast, her blog was launched, and a wedding date was set to coincide with one very important date: the UN’s International Day of the Girl Child. For weeks, the website has asked that if anyone out there is alarmed enough to stop these nuptials, they should speak now or forever hold their peace by digitally attending the wedding and "donating your voice" to the website StoppBryllupet.no.
"Our goal is to end child marriage in one generation," said Mabel van Oranje, the Board Chair of Girls Not Brides. "If we can keep this generation of girls out of marriage before age 18, we can be pretty sure that they will make sure that their daughters do not marry young either."
So far, the campaign has definitely had the effect it was going for. Aside from the blog's record-breaking traffic this week, thousands of Norwegians have contacted welfare services to express their concern.
Think the campaign goes a little too far? That's kind of the point.
"We believe that provocation is a powerful tool in order to demonstrate a reality that truly is very provoking," the website states. "We hope people will mobilize against child marriage by being girl sponsors, so that most of the 39,000 girls facing Thea’s situation every day can escape their brutal fate."
Over the weekend of October 10, Thea updated her blog with her final two missives. Her first post came on Saturday, October 11, when she posted the video of her wedding day.
In it, she primps just like any other bride. Her hair is curled, her makeup is applied, and the veil is lowered to cover her angelic, 12-year-old face. Moments later, Thea is floating down the aisle, on her way to meet her husband-to-be, Geir. But unlike most brides on this happy day, Thea is not smiling.
Finally, as the priest asks her to recite her vows, Thea speaks up for the first time:
In total, 400 people came to see Thea's wedding, including 18-year-old Shahida Akhter Shorna, a Bangladeshi teen who bravely spoke on behalf of child brides everywhere. “At the age of 14, my family said I had to marry a grown man," she shared. "I was scared and cried, but the pressure in the little community was huge. I finally persuaded them that I didn’t have to get married. Today I am proud to say that I have helped four other brides out of child marriages. Thea, don’t say yes. You’re still a child. Stop the wedding.”
On Sunday came Thea's last and final post, in which Thea finally reveals herself. In real life, 12-year-old Thea is not a child bride; in fact, her name isn't even Thea. Her name is Maja, and in a candid post she talks about what led her to take on the role of "Thea," which she did only after her mother gave her blessing.
"It has been incredibly strange and exciting to see how so many have read and followed Thea's wedding blog in recent weeks," wrote Maja. "I hope everyone who has followed the wedding blog and the history of Thea have discovered that this is something that happens to many thousands of girls [who] are married off every day around the world. I hope that as many people as possible are doing what they can to stop these barnebryllupene, either by becoming a sponsor or [helping] in other ways. Even though I now know more than many others about how it feels [to] be married off at age 12, I can not imagine how terrible it must be to be exposed to in reality."