I am a 21-year-old student, script writer and activist.
I am also the daughter of a child bride.
My mother, Saira, was 13 or 14 years old when her parents had begun the search for an ‘appropriate’ groom for her in Bangladesh. My grandparents had chosen a 26-year-old British-Bangladeshi stranger from England as the best choice for her.
My mother’s wedding was an ordeal, not a celebration. She was too young to understand what was happening, but this was the start of her nightmares. Her husband was a manic depressive paedophile, but this was hidden from everyone in Bangladesh. His family had taken him to Bangladesh to find a native and young bride, hoping that he would stop harassing the underage girls in his family and settle for one girl-child.
My mother was a young bride in England who couldn’t speak English, and was never allowed out of her husband’s home alone. She endured mental, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband and in-laws. Eventually, she became pregnant with me.
During her pregnancy she was told that her cravings for food were wrong and became anaemic. Her husband had tried to kill her when she was seven months pregnant. At the hospital after I was born, a team of translators, social service workers and lawyers informed her that her husband was a paedophile and would not be allowed near me, her child.
That was the day my mother decided to divorce her abuser. That is the day that 10 million child brides a year don’t get to make.
My mum’s story is nothing short of a miracle after that; the government had given her shelter and tokens to feed herself and me. She learned English and worked in a Women’s Centre, where she advised many British Asian girls who were victims of forced marriage on how to love themselves enough to escape.
My mother’s story became my inspiration to end child marriage in our lifetime. The life she lived must be put to use to save the millions of girls who become child brides overnight.
I have created a campaign called Justice For Saira, which asks the Bangladesh government to acknowledge the wrongdoings my mother suffered and pleads that they do more to stop child marriage.
Sixty-six per cent of girls in Bangladesh are married under the age of 18 and 32 per cent under the age of 15. This shows how much work is left to be done.
Ten thousand people have signed my petition from over 30 countries. To sign the petition please visit: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/justice-for-saira.html and to receive updates about the campaign please find us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/justiceforsaira) Twitter (www.twitter.com/justiceforsaira) and Tumblr (www.justiceforsaira.com).