This month’s Inspirational Interview is with Sami Ahmed, a 22 year old student, script writer, martial artist and human rights activist. She is currently studying History & Politics at University. From an early age Sami has always been an active member of Student Leadership and committee member of a Debate Society at college. In June 2010 Sami launched the Justice For Saira campaign which aims to hold the Bangladesh government accountable for allowing her mother’s child marriage to a paedophile and to raise awareness about the issue of child marriage globally. Within 6 months, this online petition had received over 5000 signatures.
1. Please tell us why you started “Justice for Saira”.
I started Justice For Saira because I want to change the culture of silence that surrounds child marriage. As soon as she reached her teenage year, at age 13, My mother was married to a paedophile. This is the kind of nightmare that we need to address. I knew that using the Internet would allow my message to reach a lot of people.
2. What is the situation with childhood marriage in Bangladesh today?
Child marriage is still dangerously popular in Bangladesh. 64% of girls aged 20-24 admit they were married before the legal age of 18. (1) To combat this practice, work is being done to introduce a complete birth registry system by 2015 so a girl’s true age can be established before marriage. However this is too little, too late, especially for the 64% of teenage girls who will be married before then.
3. Your Mother is a survivor of domestic violence, rape and psychological trauma; all crimes committed by her ex-husband. In your research on childhood marriage, have you found a correlation between childhood marriage and other human rights violations?
Yes, most definitely. Child marriage seems to be the term given to normalise domestic violence, rape and trauma. These are all human rights violations that under any other circumstance, and in any democratic country, would be criminal behaviour. But these adult men who marry children are allowed to do as they please. The correlation between child marriage and abuse is sadly a very natural one.
4. In your petition, and in one of your videos on your website, you cite the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. You describe how the Bangladesh government has contravened a number of articles in allowing the childhood marriage of your mother. Please tell us more about this.
The Bangladesh government in allowing age documentation to be faked, and in allowing child marriages, have broken various articles in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. Perhaps the most important is Article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The nature of my mother’s child marriage to a paedophile was cruel, inhuman and degrading. I believe strongly that if Bangladesh government are to remain in the UN they must honour these articles and continue the work they are doing to guarantee the safety of children in their country.
5. You have now reached over 10,000 signatures for your petition. Congratulations! You should be very proud of what you have achieved so far. How many signatures are you aiming for now? Is there a deadline to your petition?
The support I’ve received is overwhelming but I don’t take much credit for it! The real hero is my mother, Saira and the supporters that are fighting for her by signing this petition. My goal is 1 million supporters and I will not stop, under any circumstances, until this is achieved. I believe there are, in fact, more than one million people who agree child marriage is wrong. However, one million is my goal for Justice For Saira as it is a number that is impossible to ignore. In the UK, if a petition has one million supporters then it is eligible for a debate in Parliament. My plea to the Bangladesh government is the same. As of now, I have not set a deadline for the petition, as ending child marriage is something I have dedicated my life to achieve.
Part 2 of our interview with Sami Ahmed will be posted tomorrow