Child Brides: Stolen Lives. Directed by Amy Bucher. New York: NOW on PBS, 2007.

Reviewed by Emily Bent

Child Brides: Stolen Lives explores the global practice of forced and early marriage through the eyes of girls and young women living in Guatemala, India, and Niger. Prompted by NOW on PBS Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa, six girls tell their stories as child brides, daughters, wives, and mothers. The end result is a story that focuses primarily on the harmful aspects of the practice of child marriage and the relative powerlessness of girls and women, while only briefly touching on the economic, political, sociocultural, and historical complexities of child marriage. The film provides viewers with the impression that girls’ education is the only way out of the forced marriage dilemma; this solution is simplistically offered and the larger structural challenges to such an initiative are left untouched and unexplored. Despite this oversight, the film significantly highlights local efforts organized by community activists, educators, doctors, and religious leaders to decrease the numbers of girls entering early marriage. Additionally, it offers a refreshingly female-centered discourse that emphasizes the relationships between mothers and daughters as sites for political and social change.

Child Brides: Stolen Lives prompts student discussion on various issues, including the conceptualization of individual and collective subjectivity, agency, and power, and the structural and sociocultural barriers to enacting social change and ensuring girls’ rights in a local context. The film enables students to examine underlying assumptions about girls’ sexuality, Western versus non-Western girlhood, gender-based violence and oppression, and what Uma Narayan terms the “‘package picture’ of culture,”1 whereby girls and women from the Third World are defined by a singular practice, such as child marriage. In combination, the works of Narayan and Chandra Talpade Mohanty2 provide a strong critique of Western concepts of Third World girls, as well as a challenge to the homogenized image of culture as static and unchanging. Indeed, whether the film succeeds in introducing a dynamic and anti-essentialist approach to child marriage, or whether it remains a hegemonic and essentialist construction, could be further debated by including examples of child marriage in the Western world (e.g., in Texas and Utah). Lastly, the Nike Foundation’s financial support of Child Brides: Stolen Lives affects feminist concern and a healthy skepticism over such an alliance.

1 Uma Narayan, “Undoing the ‘Package Picture’ of Cultures,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 25, no. 4 (2000): 1083-86.

2 Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

Emily Bent ( is a doctoral fellow at National University of Ireland, Galway, in the Global Women’s Studies Programme. Her work aims to explore the complexities of ‘girl’ as a subject of feminist inquiry.