September 27th, 2020
By Ahmad Saeed
A Swat-based young activist has been for the United Nation’s 17 Young Leaders for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the Class of 2020. For 18-year-old Hadiqa Bashir, this is yet another feather in her cap, having broken the glass ceiling as a young woman hailing from the remote and conservative area of Swat and is fighting for the rights of children, especially girls. Hadiqa has been nominated because of her exceptional and heroic work against early and forced marriages centering her work in and around her hometown of Swat. But even before that, Hadiqa has won many other prestigious national and international awards, including the Muhammad Ali International Humanitarian Award in 2015.
For Hadiqa, the issue of child marriage holds the utmost importance. It is an inspiration from her own life as she herself was asked to marry at the age of just 11 years, however, she took a stand against her family.
“When I turned 11 years old, a taxi driver sent a marriage proposal for me,” she says revealing the shocking story. “My grandmother accepted the proposal as she considered it good enough for me, but I took a stand for myself and told my family that If they forced me to marry at such a tender age then I would file a case on them in the court,” she told Voicepk.net. “I told my family that I had dreams in life and I could not get married now as I have to continue my education,” she said.
Child marriage is a crime in Pakistan but more often authorities tend not to take action against it. The original Child Marriage Restraint Act (1929) was introduced to set a minimum age of marriage. According to this Act, the age of marriage for boys is 18 years while for girls it is 16 years. In April 2014, the Sindh Assembly passed the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act that changed the minimum age of marriage to 18 years for both boys and girls.
After she won from her family against this social evil, Hadiqa decided to fight it on a larger scale. She began going door to door in her village to spread awareness in people regarding the issues of early age marriages and how they affect a girl’s bodily and mental health, among other things.
“We used to organize theater plays about the hazards of child marriages,” she recalls. “Then we did some sessions with prayer leaders and convinced them to talk against early age marriages in their sermons. Now, we are making a comic book which will highlight the problems of such girls,” explains the enterprising young community leader. She is extremely clear cut about her strategy to bring social change.
Hadiqa has passed her FSc exams just a few months ago and now she wants to pursue a bachelor’s degree possibly in Sociology.
Speaking about the reaction of her family regarding her activism, she said that her father had supported her tremendously in her mission and it was only due to her father’s continuous support that she had achieved so much at such a young age.
“In the area from where I hail, it is a taboo for girls to even step out of their homes hence child marriages are considered a normal thing,” she says. “But I can say people’s mindset has been changing slowly due to awareness programs,” she added.
In this situation, Hadiqa has also been threatened by radical elements within Swat pressuring her to quit her activism yet she refused to bow down before them and continued to carry forward her struggle. To further her social work and streamline her efforts, she also founded an organization, Girls United for Human Rights for the protection and promotion of girls’ rights in the tribal regions of Pakistan, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
But Hadiqa complains that she has not received much support from the local administration and lawmakers of her area as they do not seem to consider early marriages as a problem.
“When I first met the MNA of my area, he wondered why we young girls have been raising our voices against early marriages,” she says. “According to him, it is not even an issue. But when I was invited to the Senate of Pakistan, they told me that they were aware of the issue and would legislate around it, but the matter has not been properly followed up.”
Despite the millions of challenges, she has to face from uncooperative behavior from government authorities to patriarchy in society in general, Hadiqa is still committed to her work and firmly believes that one day all of her hard work will pay off.
“I will become a voice for all of Pakistan’s youth and will highlight the issues of girls who have been victimized by social evils,” she vows. “My message to young people is that they should continue working hard and people will try to stop them but they should not surrender because I believe that only one human being with conviction can bring real change,” she added.
The program (Young Leaders for SDGs) is a flagship initiative of the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth which recognizes the efforts of young people who are driving action and galvanizing others in support of the 2030 Agenda.