Thea is 12 years old. She’s a seventh-grader at her school in Norway, and she loves riding horses and listening to One Direction. According to her blog, she’s also marrying a 37-year-old man this weekend.
But Thea and her impending wedding aren’t actually real. They were fabricated for a viral marketing campaign aimed at raising awareness about the forced marriages of underage girls around the globe.
One in nine girls worldwide are married before they turn 15, and one in three are married before they turn 18. The group that launched the Thea campaign, Plan Norway, an offshoot of anti-child marriage organization Plan International, sought to use the fictional girl’s story to highlight this issue for Norwegians.
Olaf Thommessen, national director of Plan Norway, said of the project in a post on his organization’s website:
We want to show how horrible the practice of child marriage is and put it in a context that is familiar and normally associated with love, happiness and hope for the future. Many girls dream about their wedding day and this day is often referred to as one of the happiest days of their lives. But for 39,000 young girls who get married every day, their wedding day is the worst day of their life.
The site set up for the Thea campaign was designed to look like a tween’s personal blog. A writer posing as Thea posted musings about pre-wedding plans, detailed a disagreement between Thea and her mom over the color of the wedding gown and even touched on Thea’s fears about having sex with her new husband.
Thommessen explained that Plan Norway’s goal with the Thea project was to mobilize Norwegians to stop Thea’s wedding before the little girl made it to the altar on Oct. 11.
The plan worked. Concerned Norwegians reportedly called the police to alert them to Thea’s plight.
The campaign was intended to inspire people to get involved in stopping child marriage on a global scale by sponsoring girls in developing countries. Plan International’s sponsorship program connects donors with children in need of aid. In exchange for monthly contributions toward ongoing Plan projects in the child’s community, the sponsor receives updates and letters from the child.
“The practice [of underage marriages] violates girls’ human rights, curtails their education, harms their health, and sharply constrains their futures,” Plan International writes on its website. “Girls who marry early are most often deprived of the opportunity to reach their full potential and rise out of poverty.”
The International Center for Research on Women notes that “[w]hile countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage are concentrated in Western and Sub-Saharan Africa, due to population size, the largest number of child brides reside in South Asia.”
New and activism blog RYOT remarked that “if Plan has proved anything, it’s this: It shouldn’t take a blonde-haired, rosy-cheeked 12-year-old to make us care about child brides.”