From knocking on strangers’ doors to risking her family’s reputation, teenager Hadiqa Bashir is determined to raise awareness of the dangers of child marriage in Pakistan, whatever it takes
When you were 14, what did you do with your time? Watch back-to-back episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, while painting blue streaks in your hair with a second-hand mascara brush? Or while away whole afternoons loitering in your local carpark, making prank calls from the payphone and trying to make the boy in Year 11 remember how your name?
Either way, we’re willing to bet you didn’t spend your days knocking on strangers’ doors, and earnestly begging them not to marry off their teenage daughters.
But that’s exactly what 14 year old Hadiqa Bashir has been doing for the last two years.
The teenager, who lives in Swat, Pakistan, first became aware of the dangers of child marriage when she was 10. “One of my classmates got married when we were in sixth grade,” she said, in an interview with the BBC. “At first we were all happy, but then I saw how she suffered. I realized that many other girls will suffer like her – that’s why I started my campaign.”
And she’s not exaggerating. It’s been over 65 years since Pakistan signed a declaration admitting that child marriage is a violation of basic human rights, but according to recent estimates, one in three girls in Pakistan is still married off before her 18th birthday. But it’s hard to keep track: marriages – especially in rural areas – often go undeclared, meaning that while it’s supposed to be punishable by up to three years in prison, that’s rarely the case.
Luckily for Hadiqa, she comes from a family of activists, who strongly support her views – even if their reputation is damaged in the community as a result. But for many of her friends, it’s not so straightforward: their fathers can feel pressured to give their pre-teen daughters away to settle disputes, to gain authority in the area, and to maintain the family line. And that means that from the age of 10 or 12, they’re subjected to repeated sexual assault, violence and abuse.
“It’s a patriarchal society here,” Hadiqa explains, as the comparisons to Malala come rolling in. “Many girls are not given their rights. I try to spread awareness wherever I can, especially to parents, but it’s not easy.”