By finding her power on the field, Khansa found the power to say no to child marriage
At age 16, Khansa dared to do the impossible: stand up to child marriage – a forced union that would have ended her education and sentenced her to a life of limitations and possibly even violence. She remembers the stress of her parents’ pressure: “They tried to force me to agree to the proposal. They said I had to get married anyway, so why not now?”
Rather than let those words define her future, this shy, brilliant high-schooler found the power to confront her parents, challenging deep-seated Pakistani tradition by questioning what millions of female children here have grudgingly accepted – that their lives are not their own.
At first, Khansa’s courage lay buried by timidity, a trait embedded in many girls by centuries of male-dominated culture. But when she was given the opportunity to leap into Right To Play’s Football for Development program, she discovered her own powerful voice, unleashing a world of possibilities.
“Through football I learned that no matter who you are – boy or girl – your voice can, and must, be heard.”
Each week, she and other girls took part in running, drop-kicks and passing drills, practicing in fields surrounded by protective walls – echoes of the oppressive barriers all around her. Proudly uniformed in jersey and cleats, Khansa embraced empowering exercises taught by Right To Play-trained teachers, learning communication and problem-solving skills, building her courage and insight to outwit obstacles and stand up to authority. The program also opened her eyes to children’s rights and gender equality, teaching her that the rules can be changed: “For the first time,” Khansa says, “I was seeing that I could have a real say in my life.”
It was time to act. Khansa knew the dangers of child marriage – an end to her education, exposure to abuse, poor access to social support networks, and enduring poverty. “I knew that once I was married there would be no chance of continuing my studies or participation in games and play,” she says. “My cousins are living examples of this.”
Standing up to her father, Khansa told him, “I love football and learning, and I’m too young to marry.” He resisted, but she persisted, confronting him often, defending her potential, negotiating common ground, and suggesting she delay marriage until after she finished school. Eventually swayed by her tenacity and her piercing argument that education is a gateway to opportunity, the family took the unorthodox step of cancelling the marriage, allowing Khansa to return to her classes and the playing field.
Khansa reflects on her uprising: “I’m happy I can play and complete my schooling. It offers a ray of hope that I might acquire a higher education one day.” A ray of hope that she says proudly, allowed her to reclaim her present and her future.