Thea is a 12-year-old girl from Norway. On Saturday, she will marry her fiancé, Geir, a thirty-seven year-old man. The young girl is even blogging about the special occasion and all the fun things she is doing to prepare, like tasting food and testing her wedding-day hair.
“My dream has always been that I want to be a vet because then I can work with horses and stuff like that all the time. But when I talked about it today so Mom said that I do not really need and work on some things or going to school now that I’m marrying Geir,” blogged Thea yesterday.
You are probably thinking, “There is no way this is real.”
You are right.
Thea’s marriage to Geir is not real. However, the 39,000 girls that are married each day before turning eighteen is real. More than two out of every three girls are married before eighteen in Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic. It is a global problem that some predict will see 142 million girls married before turning eighteen in this decade.
The campaign by Plan Norway is intended to provoke and illustrate the global problem of child marriage. It is working. More than 660,000 unique visitors from Norway have visited Thea’s blog. That represents roughly 12 percent of the country’s population.
Quite a few people have been duped by the blog posts. And you can’t blame them. The honest blog posts describe all the ways Thea is getting ready for her wedding. Amid descriptions of cakes and makeup, Thea describes the challenges to being a child bride and how it will disrupt her life.
Some visitors think it is real. Recent posts are filled with comments providing earnest advice and feedback to Thea. Plan Norway hopes that the outrage about a potential child bride in Norway can be channeled to child marriage around the world.
“Actually I’m not very happy today just because I and my mom just arguing. I asked her if I could ask Sara and Annikenin wedding because I do so want them to come so they can know that we can remain friends even though I’m getting married and not see at school every day,” writes Thea in a translated post.
“To open the eyes of Norwegians to these tragic facts, we needed to adopt strong measures. Therefore we decided to put the brutal reality in a Norwegian context, so that the whole population takes an active position and helps in the fight against child marriage. This has shown to be a very effective way of telling the stories,” said Annika Diseth Yri, a Plan Norway communications staffer, via email.
Visitors to the blog are directed to Plan International’s “Because I am a Girl” campaign. The top of the blog reads “Stopp Bryllupet” (stop the wedding) and provide links to the campaign, Plan’s work and how to sponsor a girl. They are encouraged to join the campaign to stop child marriage and share it through social media with the #stoppbryllupet tag.
The Because I am a Girl campaign has reached more than 10 million people, said Yri. She expects global media coverage for the wedding this weekend, including television outlets from Russia and Germany. The run-up to the wedding was covered this week by Buzzfeed and the Independent.
Making the personal connection is behind the success of the campaign.
“We believe this massive response is due to the fact that we chose to bring the issue of child marriage home to a Norwegian context,” said Yri.
“We have seen that this has been effective method to get people engaged in the issue. We as Plan Norway are both impressed and grateful of the response of the Norwegian people. People who normally don’t engage in development issues, are now campaigning to stop child marriage and sharing our message.”