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YOUNG LOVE

Photos: China’s teenage parents raise kids with the help of their families

Muyi Xiao
Cai, 16, holds her 2-month-old son at home.
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Chinese women who aren’t married before their late 20s are sometimes derided as sheng nu, or “left-over women.” But there are also “left-behind children”—the products of marriages that happened too early.

Teenage Bride, a project by photographer Muyi Xiao, reveals the family lives of teenage parents in rural areas of China’s Yunnan province. Some are as young as 13. ”I was shocked when I first read a piece in a local newspaper about teenage marriage in that region,” says the 24-year-old Xiao, a Magnum Foundation fellow. “It’s hard to stop child marriage in rural areas, because local people don’t think it’s wrong.”

Muyi Xiao
Wen touches his 13-year-old wife Jie’s stomach to feel the baby inside.

The children of these young couples are often “left behind” with family when parents come of age and head to distant cities to find work. China’s household registration system limits health, education and housing opportunities for migrant workers and their children.

The legal age to wed in China 20 for women and 22 for men. Xiao says some of her young subjects had wedding ceremonies, but did not legally register themselves as married in order to avoid penalties. In Yunnan, the fine for underage marriage is about $300 per person.

Muyi Xiao
Many migrant workers from China’s rural areas leave kids back home with their grandparents.
Muyi Xiao
Ming holds a breast pump as he watches his wife, Cai, and his mother care for his newborn at home.
Muyi Xiao
Jie touches her pregnant belly at home. At 13, Jie is 12 years younger than China’s average age for first-time mothers.
Muyi Xiao
Jie (shadow) looks at her wedding photo. She and 18-year-old Wen got married in 2014. Wen’s parents are working as migrant workers in Anhui province, leaving the couple alone at home. The money they send back every month is the young couple’s only income.
Muyi Xiao
Jie’s 16-year-old sister-in-law is also pregnant.
Muyi Xiao
Fang, 18, watches his 16-year-old wife Li breast-feeding their baby.
Muyi Xiao
Yin (18) combs her hair at home. Yin and her 17-year-old husband Qiang have a one-year-old.
Muyi Xiao
Sixteen-year-old Mei is nine months pregnant.
Muyi Xiao
Jie looks out from the bedroom at a relative’s home.
Muyi Xiao
Jie cooks dinner in her in-law’s outdoor kitchen.
Muyi Xiao
Four-year-old Le has lived apart from his parents since he was one. Here, he video chats with his mother, a 20-year-old migrant worker in Zhejiang province.

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