Thea is a 12-year-old 7th grader in Norway. She keeps a blog full of selfies, One Direction, day dreams, and the exciting things happening in her life, namely her fast approaching wedding to a 37-year-old man.
You read that correctly. Thea’s blog chronicles the events leading up to her marriage — from cake tasting to engagement rings. She also reflects on what being married so young would mean, blogging her fears of not being able to attend school and the worry about having to consummate her marriage. Her blog counted down the days to the wedding and even issued an open invitation to anyone who wanted to come watch her tie the knot with her 37-year-old fiancé, Geir.
After a month of posting, both Thea and the wedding were revealed to be (thankfully) fictional. The blog itself was a viral marketing tactic by Plan Norway, a branch of Plan International — an anti-child marriage organization.
According to the International Center for Research on Women, a third of girls worldwide are married before the age of 18, and 1 in 9 are married before they’re 15. Because these girls are often marrying older men with more sexual experience, they are at a much higher risk of contracting HIV, and girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than those in their 20s. Those who marry before 18 are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse and “often show signs symptomatic of sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress such as feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and severe depression.”
Going through the first few posts on “Thea’s” blog, you don’t witness a girl who is dreading spending her life with a man she has only met in person a couple of times. Rather, you see a girl excitedly planning what appears to be the best day of her life. She posts pictures of dress shopping, plans to ask to ride a horse into the ceremony, and takes selfies of elation when she learns that she will no longer have to go to school because her new husband will provide for her so well.
Soon, however, she begins to realize that not going to school means that she won’t be able to see her friends everyday like she does now. She starts to think about all the ways that her life will change after she’s married and that it might not be as exciting and wonderful as she first thought. Her mood shifts after ring shopping. Although she thought a wedding ring was just something pretty, her mother informs her that it shows that “one belongs to someone else for the rest of their lives.”
Plan Norway’s goal in all of this was to rouse the country in seeing just how wrong the situation was and to demand it stopped. To say the least, it worked. All were invited to the October 11 wedding (which “just so happened” to fall on the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl) via Facebook. Several hundred people showed up outside of the church as a means of protest while around 400 sat inside. People began to shout “Stop the wedding!” resulting in the hashtag #StopTheWedding (in Norwegian: #stoppbryllupet) reaching millions of people instantaneously through both Facebook and Twitter.
Maja Bergström, the girl who posed as Thea the child bride, had this to say:
It was tough to be a child bride. Everything was so wrong, but it was also so important. I think it just so terrible that 39,000 girls are made to be child brides every day, and I’m glad that I have given them a face. I want all the world’s girls to be able to go to school, to play with friends, and to be children — just like me.
National Director of Plan Norway Olaf Thommessen is happy with the results of their demonstration. He says:
During the course of this campaign we have given the world an insight into how brutal a child marriage is. Thea’s wedding blog has provoked and engaged people from around the world, and we have had responses from, among others, South Korea, Russia, and Australia, as well from world stars like Ashton Kutcher to world leaders. We hope that this protest will help to open the eyes of the world community and show that we must join forces in the fight against child marriage and to secure girls’ rights.