Hadiqa Bashir is just a child …13-year-old but already she is working to save girls from child marriage in rural Pakistan. Child marriage is illegal in Pakistan but it’s still widely practice in the Swat Valley.
Visiting Hadiqa Bashir today is a young girl, Shabana.
She is with her mother. A white gauze is covering her nose. She tell me the horrific reason why.
“My mother in law asked my husband to complete your job today and she left the house. I had my young son with me and husband asked his sister to take my son to other room and soon after he cut my nose. The next morning my mother in law came and when she checked my nose, she said that it should be cut some more,” she said.
The family claims their violence crime was because she didn’t do her chores well enough.
At first the police were slow to act. 13 year old Hadiqa along with other rights groups had to pressure them to even register the case. Her husband is now in jail awaiting trail.
Her husband is trying to pressure her for reconciliation.
Now Shabana now lives with her parents and often visits Hadiqa who gives her financial and emotional support.
Hadiqa Bashir was motivated to help others after she was nearly married off when she was just 10.
“My grandmoth er started thinking seriously about my marriage so I decided to refuse marrying and instead continue my studies. I decided to stand against child marriages to stop suffering my peer from the evil practice. I openly told my grandmother that I am not going to marry now and I want to complete my study,” Hadiqa said.”
Her grandmother was angry and refused to speak to her for months but now understands.
After school three days a week, Hadiqa Bashir goes door to door to meets parents in her neighborhood. She focuses on around 1500 families.
“The parents should know that children have some rights too therefore I visit door to door. I am planning to convince politicians to bring amendments in marriage policy and then implement the law against child marriages and to punish the parents who marry their children in early ages.”
Hadiqa knocks at one door and a man older enough to be her father answers. He politely asks him if he has a young daughter and he says yes. She gently talks to him and the negative impacts of child marriages.
He thanks her for her information. He looks quite surprised to she a young girl doing this.
Hadiqa set up a group called girls united for human rights with support of her father. This group want to try and educate young children about the dark side of child marriages.
Today she is showing a story about a girl who says she wants to die rather than marry at a young age to a group of around 15 children in Mingora.
13 year old Nusrat Jan is living that nightmare. She away from home to escape a marriage to a 51 year old man and is now living in a cramped room in her aunt’s house.
“I would prefer to drink poison than marrying him. I don’t know what will happen to me now. I am ready for death,” Nusrat said.
Hadiqa campaign against marriages like hers is a hard one and her voice is a lonely one.
A Unicef report from 2014 found that seven percent of girls in Pakistan are married while under the age of 15. 40 percent of girls in Pakistan are married before they are 18.
Not far from Hadiqa village, Sajjid Khan is planning to the marriage of his 9 year old son to a 5 year old girl.
“I know the girl is too young to marry to my son and so does my son but I want to see them married soon. They will spend one night together and then she can go home to her family until she reaches puberty,” he said.
The child brides father Wasim Jan wanted to hold off 5 years but after a discussion agrees.
“He did not want to wait that long, he was worried that after five years we would change our minds. In the end I have accepted his proposal.”
13 year old Hadiqa hopes her generation will be the last.
“I don’t think male will bring changes in customs of child marriages. It is time for women to stand up for their rights and I ensure you that the new generation, my generation and my group will play role to bring positive changes and will stop child marriages in the area.”
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