At just 15, Nawal Haider Butt is making waves in Pakistan, becoming one of the youngest activists in the country. Here, we talk about her journey.
Youth Time highlights the impressive journey of the 15 years-old Nawal Haider Butt, a passionate and published young writer and activist eager to promote child rights in Pakistan.
Haider has written various articles for national newspapers, and magazines. She is also a recipient of silver and bronze certificates in The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition.
From raising her voice to protect girls’ rights and fight child marriages, to being the first Pakistani member of Quill and Scroll, she is an extraordinary example of how youth activism is transforming our communities and paving an enhanced life for the surroundings.
Say No to Child Brides
She elaborates on her inspiration to engage in child rights protection and promotion in Pakistan at such an early age.
It was a very spur-of-the-moment matter; she says at the beginning of our exclusive interview.
“I discovered that not only was it legal for girls in Punjab to be married at 16, but that it was not legal for boys until 18. I was 14 at the time and incredibly disconcerted, and uncomfortable with the revelation.”
She made a petition to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls in Punjab, Pakistan.
“It [the petition] went viral. I joined the Say No to Child Brides campaign with Amplify Change and I was a part of two short videos made to spread awareness on the matter. One thing led to another. I do not think I entirely knew what it would lead to.”
This petition has been already presented to the Governor of Punjab.
On this note, let us recall that according to UNICEF data, South Asia has the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with almost half (45%) of all women aged 20-24 years reporting being married before the age of 18, and almost one in five girls (17%) before the age of 15.
Acknowledging child marriage is a tremendous problem in Pakistan specifically, but the rest of South Asia too, we bring into discussion that she also directed a movie for early marriages in the country.
“When so many people believe children should be subjected to abuse because of their gender, raising awareness is absolutely critical.”
Being the First Pakistani Member of Quill and Scroll
Haider is also the first ever Pakistani member of Quill and Scroll- an international high school journalism honour society since April 1926 that recognises and encourages both individual and group achievements in scholastic journalism.
She tells us this feels very fulfilling.
“I have always loved writing and I remember I decided I wanted to be a journalist when I was 10. I started writing travel logs and sending them out to the various editors whose emails I could get my hands on.”
The first major magazine she ever published in was the Daily Times, one of the biggest English-language newspapers in Pakistan, and child me chased that high from then on.
“From the ages of 10-13, I consistently got published in a variety of major English language media in Pakistan, The Nation, Young Dawn, Teen Times, etc. etc. I participated in many writing competitions and won (and lost!) awards for quite a few.”
But, by 13, she grew tired of it all and diverged her attention elsewhere.
“When I found Quill and Scroll, my love for journalism was revived when I found that there was so much more I could do in the same realm of writing. It is a long process and after I joined in 2020, I started the first Pakistani chapter at my school.”
Just recently, they organised a series of sessions with authors in front of live audiences and are planning to do more in the future.
Young People Valuing Themselves
Speaking to youth around the world, Haider says that change is a lengthy and difficult journey, especially in the communities where it is not welcome.
“My message for the young people would be to start somewhere, and not think of making grand, world shattering progress but simply begin the process.”
Because we can accomplish nothing if nothing begins; she concludes.
She believes young people should value their own work and the work of others, because progress is progress, whether that’s changing the mind-set of a few dozen people or passing laws at a national level.
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