Originally published here.
Aleena Atta, 14 years old, is a student of grade 7. She lives in a small house in Sharpur village with five other family members. Her village is situated in the Union Council Sumra of the Lodhran District, Punjab. Aleena’s real father passed away when she was very young and her mother re-married.Aleena got engaged at the age of 13 and her fiancé’s family demanded that the marriage would take place a year later, to which her stepfather agreed.
Aleena wanted to study – she couldn’t imagine getting married at such an early age, moving away from her family and giving up school. However, living in a deeply patriarchal society, she couldn’t dare oppose her step father’s decision.
Besides, preparations for Aleena’s wedding were already underway. Aleena found it very hard to study and go about her everyday life – the life of a 13 year old girl.
The Improving the Lives of Children (ILC) project, run by Save the Children, focuses on protecting children in the Lodhran District. In September 2015, Aleena’s mother, Sughra Bibi, joined a community organisation in her village, which was formed as part of the ILC project. She also attended various training and awareness sessions, including one on child marriages and their complications. She also learnt about the details of the Punjab Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act 2015.
On the basis of her new found knowledge, Aleena’s mother reasoned with her husband to postpone Aleena’s marriage until she turns 18 and finishes high school. It took a while, but she was able to convince him that child marriages are the cause of irreversible damage and can harm more than one generation. Aleena’s step-father discussed this with Aleena’s in-laws to be, and talked them into delaying the marriage. Finally, the two families agreed to prolong the engagement until Aleena turned 18. Aleena has now happily resumed her former life and attends school regularly. Aleena says:
“I was very worried about my future. Everywhere I turned, there was talk of my wedding – even my friends had started planning songs and dances for my wedding. I am very happy now and I want to continue my studies even after the 10th grade. There is no female doctor in our village or in the nearby villages; I want to become a doctor and work in my village so that girls and women can get proper medical care.”
(this law defines a boy as under 18 years and a girl under 16 years of age and needs to advocate for amendment to change the girl's age from 16 to 18)