TORU (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa): She’s just 10 years old, but Ansa Khan’s day is a hectic one. At the first hint of dawn, she is up saying her morning prayers before reading her Quran. Those are Ansa’s quietest moments.
After that, her day is a whirl of chores, school, studying and the occasional moments stolen away to play marbles.
Since 2012, the United Nations has reserved Oct 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child “to recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world”. This year the theme is employable skills for girls, particularly in poorer economies.
Since 2012, the UN has observed Oct 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child “to recognise girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world”
Early marriage is often the first option for girls in many of the world’s poorest countries and Pakistan is no different.
According to the global organisation Girls Are Not Brides, in 2017, there were 1.9 million women in Pakistan between the ages of 20 and 24 who had been married off before they turned 18. The organisation had an even higher figure for India — 15.5m.
There are no official figures for the current numbers of child brides. Poverty and patriarchy are the oft-cited reasons for child brides.
But Pakistan also has its girl heroes, most notably the youngest Nobel Laureate Malala Yousufzai, who was shot by Taliban insurgents at just the age of 13 for speaking out in favour of girls’ education.
Yousufzai survived and made educating all girls everywhere her goal. She was only slightly older than Ansa when she first blogged for the BBC advocating education for girls, even as the Taliban burned girls’ schools and threatened harsh punishments for those who would send their girls to school.
Like Yousufzai, Ansa is from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Also, like Yousufzai, Ansa enjoys school, saying her favourite subject is Islamic Studies. Electricity is not always reliable in Ansa’s village of Toru and she is often forced to study by flashlight.
Ansa’s father, Tajbar Khan, said his young daughter often helps him on the land he farms for a large landowner in the area. She runs to help feed the cattle and spends hours with her mother making the dung or manure collected from the animals into large round cakes that are dried out and later used for cooking.
The farm produces tobacco, a major crop in the province. While her father and older brother harvest and shred the leaves from the tobacco plants, Ansa, her older sister and mother sew the leaves together to be dried.
This year’s UN statement about girl child day called for a focus on gaining skills.
“Of the one billion young people — including 600m adolescent girls — that will enter the workforce in the next decade, more than 90pc of those living in developing countries will work in the informal sector,” the statement said.
“The most disadvantaged girls, including those in rural areas and those with disabilities, have even less access to decent work,” it added.