Photojournalist Allison Joyce
was on assignment for Getty Images in her home of Bangladesh last summer when she passed a huge wedding tent being set up alongside the road. Curious what was going on, she asked a passerby who told her the wedding was set for the next day, and thousands of guests had been invited. But the detail that struck Joyce was the fact that the bride was only in the sixth grade. The next day, Nasoin Akhter would be married off to a man twice her age. Joyce returned the next morning with her camera, and was welcomed into the ceremony.
"Photographing her wedding was obviously sad," Joyce told Refinery29 of Akhter's big day. "She didn't seem like she was under any misconceptions about what was happening to her. She was quiet and withdrawn the entire day, even when surrounded by her friends."
"In a lot of ways, it felt familiar, like the weddings I attended in the U.S.: Guests were dressed to the nines; happy couples mingled around; children were dancing in the streets to pop music. Everyone was celebrating this forced marriage of a 15-year-old girl to a 32-year-old man. To most of them, the sight wasn't an unusual one," Joyce said. "Most of the women in these communities are also married around the same age or younger."
Although child marriage was officially outlawed there in 1929
, Bangladesh has one of the highest rates in the world. An estimated 65% of girls are married before the age of 18. Of those, 29% are married before the age of 15, according to UNICEF.
And while Bangladesh's female prime minister pledged
to end child marriage by 2041, many are concerned by proposals
to lower the official age from 18 to 16 in "special circumstances." (It's worth noting that, in some states, Americans can get married before the age of 18 with parental consent.)
Child marriage is incredibly harmful for girls — threatening both their health and education. Most young brides must drop out of school after their wedding, and many suffer violence and sexual abuse at the hands of their often much-older husbands. Early pregnancy puts girls at a higher risk for complications and death during childbirth, according to nonprofit Girls Not Brides
By documenting Nasoin's wedding, Joyce hopes to raise awareness and push for change.
"Photography is a universal language and an incredibly powerful tool to affect change. It's one thing to read the statistics and know that things like child marriage are happening somewhere in the world, but seeing the frightened face of a child on her wedding day, personally that's what moves me, and I think most people, the most," Joyce said.
Ahead, Joyce shares her powerful photographs with Refinery29.
Editor's note: Captions were provided by Joyce and have been edited for length and clarity.