By Sumaiya Malik
The day after I watched “Sitara: Let Girls Dream,” a 2020 short film directed and written by Academy Awards winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, I was still thinking about it.
The film, available on Netflix, belongs to the new genre of short films gaining popularity in a world where attention span is short, and a lot must be said forcefully and quickly especially when it’s an important message that will affects society.
Sitara, a computer-animated 15-minute film attempts to spotlight the issue of child marriage, a marriage in which at least one party is under 18 years of age. Set in the old city of Lahore, the film revolves around Pari, a fourteen-year-old girl who aspires to be a pilot.
She has an older brother, maybe by a year or two, and a much younger sister in a house where the parents are far apart in age. A framed picture shows an old man, Pari’s dad, with a child-bride, her mother.
The film is beautifully made, with colors and background details that all speak up in their silence about child marriages of which one is destined for Pari.
The way the film pans out is anyone’s guess, but what’s important and different in this film is that no character in a society function alone. Each one supports the other and vice versa.
While the film is set in the sub-continent, child marriages, shockingly so, exist in the U.S. Unchained at last, a US-based non-profit listed that 300,000 children– under age 18 – were legally married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018.
In Texas, in the same time span, an estimate showed more than 41,000 child marriages.
96% of the children married were age 16 or 17, typically not old enough to file for divorce or enter a domestic violence shelter, and most were girls, the website said.
The problem of child marriages is closer than we think. Often, we don’t even realize it.
Sitara reminds us of that. The film breaks hearts only to make them eventually beat with hope.
Sitara shares Pari’s dreams and sorrow when faced with a forced marriage with an old man. The film acts as a mirror to those who have the power to stop the cycle of child marriages.
Marriage before age 18 has such devastating, long-lasting consequences – undermining girls’ health, education and economic opportunities and increasing their risk of experiencing violence – that the U.S. state department considers marriage before 18 a “human rights abuse,” a 2017 New York Times article said.
The same article added that Texas recently passed a bill in 2017 to end most child marriage, but allows emancipated minors to marry.
Emancipation from parental control involves (absolving a parent’s responsibilities to a minor) involves convincing a judge that a minor is sufficiently mature and independent to make legal binding decisions such as marriage.
A 2018 Dallas Morning News article said that too often it’s actually parents set on marrying off their offspring who manipulate their child – and the legal system – into approving the designation.
Divorces are expensive, and if the marriage is abusive, getting help from a shelter or law enforcement becomes complicated by age.
The fact remains that a character in society is not alone and each character influencing a child marriage can play a positive or negative role in stopping what is considered child abuse.
Chinoy’s Sitara becomes a mirror image for all those parents and siblings who can take the bold step of breaking this unhealthy process especially in the United States where education and awareness are already a part of every home.
To find help or volunteer visit Asian Family Support Services of Austin, afssaustin.org.