Everyone thinks they know what climate change looks like. It is that polar bear adrift on its ice floe. It is melting glaciers and rising sea levels. It is an apocalyptic future of cities disappearing beneath the waves.

But what if the future is already here and the human disaster is already unfolding, hidden in full view?

What if it is the young girl sitting in the doorway of her mud hut in in a small African village, nursing her first baby as she watches her friends trot off to school?

What if climate change is already creating a generation of child brides?

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A generation of child brides

Every year it is getting hotter. Every year the rains are less predictable; either they are late and the crop fails, or there is too much water and the floods sweep the fields away. Every year the yields are falling. Every year there are fewer fish in the rivers and the sea. Every year the families have less money. Until eventually there seems only one answer. The girls must leave the family home and get married, so that there is enough food for the rest of the family to eat.

The reporting team

The Brides Of The Sun investigation is a collaboration between foreign correspondent and photojournalist Gethin Chamberlain, writer Maria Udrescu and video journalist Miriam Beller. It is supported by funding from the European Journalism Centre as part of its Innovation in Development Reporting Grant Programme. All the material published is © Brides Of The Sun.
The Brides Of The Sun reporting project was set up to investigate a link between child marriage and climate change, focusing on two countries – Malawi and Mozambique – where nearly half of girls are married by the age of 18.

Poverty and tradition have made child marriage a fact of life around the world, but public awareness campaigns and legal bans should by now have curbed the rising numbers of child brides. Instead, particularly in rural areas, the numbers remain stubbornly high. It seems that there has to be another factor in play: climate change.

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Rising temperatures and irregular rainfall have brought more drought and flooding. Families once able to feed themselves have seen harvests fail. Their solution  has been to marry off their daughters. And nine months later, there the girl sits, sheltering her new-born baby from the blazing sun, wondering how it ended up this way.

The figures are startling. In Malawi alone around 1.5 million girls are estimated to be at risk of becoming child brides as a direct result of climate change. If that is reflected in the nine other African countries with the highest rates of child marriage, where nearly 23 million girls out of the current total of 41 million under 18 are expected to be married by their 18th birthday, then anyone wondering what climate change really looks like in action need look no further than the brides of the sun.

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The reporting team interviewed child brides in Malawi and Mozambique.

I got married at 15 because I was seeing that my married friends had enough to eat, had enough clothes. And I was suffering; one day I was eating, one day I wasn’t. So I preferred to find a husband so that I could live a normal life.

Theresa Januario, married at 15.

The child brides of climate change

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310 million - Unicef projection for number of child brides by 2050.

37,000 - current number of child marriages per day.

1.5 million - number of girls at risk of climate change-related child marriage in Malawi.

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Moma, Nampula Province, Mozambique. #theta360 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

'I tried to negotiate, to tell my parents that I wasn't ready, that I didn't want to get married, but they told me that I had to because that would mean one mouth less at the table.'

Ntoya Sande, married at 13.

'Here in Mozambique many marry off their daughters, even if it isn't what they had planned. Because there’s no other option ... People let their girls marry early, because of the suffering. I have to support nine people. I can’t manage to support all of them.'

Januario Antonio, farmer.