Is the Guardian romanticizing Palestinian child marriages?

There is little debate that the continuing international phenomenon of child marriages represents a serious human rights violation.

Indeed, it is estimated that more than 142 million girls will be coerced into becoming child brides by 2020 if current rates continue. Of that number, 50 million will be younger than 15.  Child marriage “increases health risks through early pregnancy and motherhood”, and increases the chances of girls being the victims of physical and sexual abuse in the home.  In poor countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for teenage girls.

According to Babatunde Osotimehin, M.D, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund, “Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects,” 

In Gaza, the problem is especially serious. A recent Al Monitor report claimed that of about 17,000 marriages registered in the courts of Gaza, a staggering 35% of the brides were under 17 years old. The author of the story cites, as the cause of this widespread problem, “old traditions that do not allow girls the right to decide their fate, and a lack of legal and legislative action to grant them this right.”

Yet, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the photographer and Guardian editor responsible for the following Sept. 30 photo story on a recent child marriage in Gaza was almost romanticizing such underage marriages.


Here’s the caption of the photo:

Ahmed Soboh, 15, is welcomed by his relatives a day before his wedding party, in Beit Lahiya, near the border between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip

In fact, the captions used under the 13 pictures in the series (some of which were featured previously at the Guardian in their ‘Picture Desk Live’ series) don’t even attempt to contextualize the recent marriage of Ahmed, 15, and Tala, who’s only 14, in a manner which would convey the message that such a young union is widely acknowledged to be a grave violation of children’s human rights.

Here’s another photo from the series: 

The newlywed couple pose

Tala and Ahmed

The caption reads: “The newlywed couple poses”.

Here’s another photo:

Palestinian groom Ahmed Soboh, 15, and his bride Tala, 14, stand inside Tal

Ahmed and Tala

The caption reads: “Ahmed Soboh, 15, and his bride Tala, 14, stand inside Tala’s house during their wedding party in Beit Lahiya.”

Finally, the horror of child marriages was recently articulated by an 11-year-old Yemeni girl, Nada al-Ahdal, whose account of escaping her own arranged marriage went viral on YouTube.

It’s difficult to avoid detecting a whiff of liberal racism in the Guardian’s photographic celebration of the young girl’s exploitation – a misplaced fear, perhaps, of offending cultural sensitivities by holding poor Palestinians accountable to Western standards – and, just as likely, an inability to frame stories of injustice in ‘Palestine’ which don’t fit the template of Israeli oppression. 

h/t Elder 

21 replies »

  1. Children must be protected against abuse of all sorts. However, before make sure your own house is in order before throwing aspersions at others.

    A UN human rights group has accused Israel of abuses against Palestinian children that include torture, solitary confinement and threats of death and sexual assault in prisons.

    Besides spotlighting abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories, it also expressed grave concern at the number of Palestinian children who have been held in Israeli jails.

    It said that an estimated 7,000 kids aged from 12 to 17 years, but sometimes as young as nine, have been arrested, interrogated and detained since 2002 – an average of two per day.

    Most were taken in after being accused of throwing stones at Israeli forces and settlers, an offence which can carry a 20-year penalty.

    In April this year, 236 children were in military detention centres, with dozens aged between 12 and 15, the report said drawing on data from UNICEF and Israeli rights group B’tselem.

    The committee expressed its “deepest concern that children on both sides of the conflict continue to be killed and injured”, but underlined that kids in the occupied territories were “disproportionately represented among the victims”.

    • I read your post with little interest. You seem to have drunk an entire pitcher of cool aid. What’s truly shocking is the number of Arab children involved in violent criminality intended to create bodily harm to innocents.
      Know of any nine years olds serving a 20 year sentence?

      I’m unmoved by your vituperative exercise.

    • @ Bircock

      You wrote: ‘A UN human rights group has accused Israel of abuses against Palestinian children …………’

      Can you please name this mysterious UN human rights group. Clearly, they have an agenda. And I notice you avoided giving the name.

    • Of course, these stats are wonderful out of all context. These children are arrested in a conflict zone and in a place where their parents, teachers and leaders all urge them at every turn to hate the “Zionist” and that the most wonderful ambition they could have is to die a violent death at the hands of a Jew.

      Contrast these figures with the following: “The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice reported that more than 100 children aged 5 and 6 have been arrested in Florida in the past 12 months.” Is Florida a conflict zone? Are these political arrests?

  2. The Guardian will forgive the Palestinians anything. They are cooed over like little innocents. Surely these sweet darlings could never raise a finger against anyone,

    The Guardian’s agenda is pretty transparent – portray the pals as blameless and bury all news of their murderous attacks and racist incitement. But do they think we don’t know?

  3. “It’s difficult to avoid detecting a whiff of liberal racism in the Guardian’s photographic celebration of the young girl’s exploitation. – a misplaced fear, perhaps, of offending cultural sensitivities by holding poor Palestinians accountable to Western standards”

    Interesting use of the term Liberal.

    The 1929 Age of Marriage bill was introduced with an intention of influencing the marriage practices of India. Lord Buckmaster was a liberal (at that time representing the left of the UK parliament).

    QUOTE –

    LORD BUCKMASTER My Lords, you will remember that this Bill was referred by this House to a Select Committee, who have been diligently through its provisions and made a Report, with the terms of which it is unnecessary to trouble your Lordships. I think I need read only one paragraph. They say:— It may be difficult to prove that, in Great Britain, the disparity between the legal age of marriage and the facts of national life impedes the progress of morality. But there is evidence that it does impair the influence of Great Britain in co-operating in the work of the League of Nations for the protection and welfare of children and young people, and docs prejudice the nation’s effort to grapple with the social problems arising from the early age at which marriages are contracted in India. On these grounds the Committee are unanimously of opinion that a revision of the law in respect of the minimum age of marriage is necessary, and that the law should be brought into closer conformity with the moral and social development of the nation, and should register the progress already made.


  4. Another backward-thinking idiot who doesn`t know anything about left politics and parties in 1929 in Great Britain.
    That`s one result of the poststructuralist/colonialist teaching at the universities, every idiot has an opinion which is considered as his subjective truth even when the subject is lying. The perfect propaganda tool for cultural relativism, terrorism, etc. and against the west after the demise of the Soviet bloc. Loosing the workers, but winning the romanticised Islamists, that fits the survival in neoliberal times, the responsibility, the action, the resistance, the terror are outsourced, own positions secured and fit for denial.

        • From the Levellers, through to the Liberals of the 1920’s Britain has had a proud history of Liberal political thought and protest. To ignore the influence of Liberal politics on the present day stance on Child Marriage is ignorant.

          Fritz spews word salad at me based on one sentence and a quote from parliament.

          • “Lord Buckmaster was a liberal (at that time representing the left of the UK parliament).”
            Only a complete idiot writes about the parliament in 1929 without knowing about the existence of the Labour party.

            • Fritz you are correct.
              Not just the existence of the Labour Party, but in 1929 the SECOND Labour Government was formed with support from 37 MPs of the Independent Labour Party a party that was to the ‘left’ of the Labour Party.
              Also it was in the 1920s that the UK Parliament had elected MPs representing the Communist Party of Great Britain, one who springs to mind was the UKs first Indian MP Shapurji Saklatvala.