'Happy Child Mother's Day,' says a harrowing new site from Save the Children

JWT New York creates a dark parody of festive flower and chocolate consumption.

Children are a blessing, they say.

But every year, 2.5 million children give birth to children of their own. This Mother’s Day, international human rights group Save the Children is "celebrating" these youngest mothers, usually one of the more than 12,000 children under the age of 15 forced into marriage every day.

"Happy Child Mother’s Day" is a full-fledged e-commerce site that offers typical Mother’s Day fare: a bouquet of flowers, a manicure, a box of chocolates. But a closer read reveals hidden horrors. "Ideal for chilly nights or concealing her bruised, battered arms, this cotton cardigan is one she’ll reach for again and again," says the product description for a thin, red sweater. "Ages: 10 and up."

"Despite what many of us find as hard-to-believe, children around the world are being forced into marriages—sometimes with men four times their ages. Often sold by their families for money or for what they hope is a chance at a better life," said Susan Ridge, VP, president of marketing & communications at Save the Children. "Leveraging a widely recognized consumer moment like Mother's Day was a great way to surface this disturbing reality and to hopefully inspire people to help us change the story for these girls."

Rather than adding items to an online shopping cart, viewers are directed to a donation button. Everything on the site is "marked down" to $5.99, the cost of a traditional Mother’s Day card. "Even the phrase alone, "child mothers," immediately conjures harrowing images, so we wanted to take some of that shock factor and package it up in a way to inspire action," said Dominic Al-Samarraie, creative director at J. Walter Thompson New York, which created the site.

The creative team at JWT hadn’t initially planned to create a Mother’s Day campaign. But while working on the issue of forced marriage for Save the Children two weeks ago, the convenient timing became apparent, and they made the choice to subvert the holiday rather than embrace it.

Key to the campaign is the relative banality of the site—the copy, the product shots and the interface are all designed to seem ordinary at first. "The presents were all chosen as they are gifts we take for granted," Al-Samarraie said. "When you look at them through the lens of a child mother though, they suddenly become luxury items when you realize these girls have nothing and no one to turn to for help."

They spent time on other online shopping sites like flower shops and e-tailers like Amazon. "It was really important for us to mimic the same type of language and aesthetic used in e-commerce," Al-Samarraie said. For example, each item has a listed return policy: "When child mothers try to return to school and other daily activities, they’re often shunned by their community and unable to live a normal life."

Unlike some previous campaigns from Save the Children, "Child Mother’s Day" doesn't feature true stories of actual children in need. Victims of certain kinds of crimes—domestic violence and sexual assault, for example—are supposed to be afforded anonymity, especially when the victrims are children."Given that the narrative and theme is referencing child mothers who are often targets of violence and abuse from their husbands, J. Walter Thompson chose to follow a similar protection angle and creative approach to be true to the work we do for boys and girls around the world," said Save the Children's Ridge.

So the campaign is visually subtle. There are no lingering shots of children in deplorable conditions or war-torn strife. The girl in the product images is a model, not a child bride. And viewers might not notice the Photoshopped bruises on her arms at first glance. "Our aim was to do something unexpected, so it definitely does feel different than other Save the Children pieces," Al-Samarraie said. "In principle though, the idea is very rooted in Save the Children’s mission: No child should be forgotten."

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