Safe House: Child marriage and “the cutting season” in Tanzania

Marc Ellison was an inaugural recipient of the Fellowship for International Development Reporting in 2015. His reporting project focused on child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) in Tanzania.

Read the article: Tanzania’s girls flee their families – and marriage Toronto Star, April 11, 2016

Read the article: A mother’s plea: Let me cut my daughter Toronto Star, April 11, 2016

Explore the interactive graphic novel: Safe House

Read the article: Tales of a Child Bride: ‘My father sold me for 12 cows’ Al Jazeera English, July 2016

Explore the interactive graphic novel: Cash Cow Al Jazeera English, July 2016

Safe House has been honoured with the 2016 Amnesty International Canada Media Award – Online and the 2016 Journalist for Human Rights / Canadian Association of Journalists Award for Human Rights Reporting.


Using the medium of the graphic novel, my fellowship project focuses on why four out of 10 girls in Tanzania are forced into marriages before they reach the age of 18. Child marriage in Tanzania is driven by poverty – momentarily relieved by the payment of dowries – and ultimately limits a girl’s access to education, exposes them to exploitation, domestic violence, marital rape, forced maternity, and reproductive health risks and neglect.

I chose to tell the story of a safe house in rural Tanzania. Each year the December rains mark the beginning of the ‘cutting season,’ a time when hundreds of girls – some as young as nine – are forced to undergo FGM. The life-threatening procedure is a rite of passage into womanhood in the Kurya tribe, and is performed so that the child can enter into an arranged early marriage. The newly-formed safe house now offers not only sanctuary to girls who don’t want to be cut, but seeks to educate the parents about the ramifications of FGM and child marriage before the girl is allowed to return.

I’ve reported from Africa since 2011 and sadly budget has always been a limiting factor. At a time when most media outlets are slashing their budgets, and closing or downsizing their foreign bureaus, this fellowship affords journalists a rare opportunity to report on an issue in a developing country.

It’s always a challenge to convince people about the importance of reporting on global issues, to make them care about stories from a distant, faraway land. Ultimately I inherently believe that we all have a deep sense of empathy and that good reporting can tap into that.


Marc Ellison is an award-winning photojournalist currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. He has worked extensively in Africa since 2011, reporting on issues including the reintegration challenges facing female child soldiers in Uganda, sex workers and the prevalence of HIV along Mozambique’s transit corridors, the health challenges facing families within Sudanese refugee camps, and how reality radio can be harnessed to aid farmers in Mali. Marc has produced work for 60 Minutes, Al Jazeera, BBC, The Globe and Mail, The Guardian, the Toronto Star, and Vice.

Fellowship for International Development Reporting

The Fellowship for International Development Reporting encouraged journalists to push the boundaries of daily foreign coverage – which is often focused on disaster or crisis – and set new standards for reporting on the developing world. Fellowship recipients were provided with $25,000 to undertake a substantial reporting project which helps Canadians develop a greater understanding of the complex issues facing the developing world.

The Fellowship has two objectives: to encourage ambitious foreign reporting during an era of tighter news budgets; and, to foster a community of Canadian journalists who share an interest in reporting original topics from the developing world.

The Fellowship for International Development Reporting was a joint initiative of the Canadian Association of Journalists(CAJ) and Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC).