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A teenage girl who was forced into a marriage is pictured in her town in South Sudan.
Mariah Quesada/AP
Girls & Women

Death Sentence for Sudanese Teen Bride Who Stabbed Her Rapist Sparks Outrage

When Noura Hussein, a young Sudanese woman, stabbed her rapist, she was fighting for her life and her future. She didn’t know a judge would sentence her to death a year later.

Activists and human rights advocates have called the ruling, announced on Thursday, “cruel, inhuman, and degrading.” And the hashtag #JusticeforNoura, in support of the 19-year-old who was forced into an early marriage that resulted in her husband raping her, is gaining traction on social media.

Hussein was found guilty of killing her husband last month, but her sentence was only handed down on Thursday, the New York Times reported. Yasmeen Hassan, global executive director of gender equality organization Equality Now, told Global Citizen that in Sudan, as in several other Islamic countries, the family of the deceased is entitled to request financial compensation or retribution in the form of the death penalty. The family of Hussein’s husband chose the latter, and people are outraged.

Hussein’s case isn’t just receiving strong support online. Dozens of people amassed outside the courthouse during her trial on Thursday with anti-death penalty signs, but were beaten back by state security officers, the Washington Post reported.

Take Action: Stand with Sonita: Tell World Leaders to End Child Marriage

Hussein was just 16 when her family forced her to marry her distant cousin, Abdulrahman Mohamed Hammad. 

Children over the age of 10 can legally be married in Sudan — the lowest minimum marriage age of any African country — with a judge’s permission or parental consent. And many are: 1 in 3 Sudanese girls are married before their 18th birthday, according to the nonprofit Girls Not Brides.

But Hussein had always dreamed of being a teacher, not a child bride. So she fled.

For the next three years, Hussein lived with an aunt and was able to finish high school. After graduating, she was persuaded to return home — to the outskirts of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum — last April by her father, who promised that the wedding had been canceled, the Washington Post reported.

But when she arrived, she discovered a very different reality. Hussein was made to participate in a wedding ceremony and then whisked away on a “honeymoon” to the city of Omdurman, according to Sudanese activists.

Read more: Child Marriage: Everything You Need to Know

For several days, Hussein refused to have sex with her husband and consummate the marriage. So five days after they were married, Hammad raped her while three of his male relatives held her down. Hammad attempted to rape Hussein again the next night, and when she resisted, he retrieved a knife and threatened her.

They struggled, and ultimately Hussein grabbed the knife, fatally stabbing Hammad twice, activists said. Fearful of retribution against the family, Hussein’s father disowned her and turned her into the police, where she confessed.

At this point, Hussein has been in jail for over a year. Her lawyers now have 15 days to appeal the judge’s decision, but because the teen was above the minimum marriage age and marital rape is not criminalized in the Northern African country, there is little hope.

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“In this context, no crime has been committed against Noura and therefore, the self-defense claim against murder doesn't stand because there is no crime of marital rape,” Hassan, of Equality Now, told Global Citizen. “As such, the court does not consider her to have been defending herself against rape, forced or child marriage ... But Noura is not a criminal, she is a victim and should be treated as such.”

The case has sparked international outrage and shines a spotlight on several ongoing human rights abuses in Sudan, particularly in the form of violence against women. A Change.org petition calls for Hussein’s sentence to be repealed and, at the time of writing, already has more than 135,000 signatures. Activists are hopeful that Hussein’s case and the international attention it is receiving will help pave the way for legislative reform.

Global Citizen campaigns to amend laws and change attitudes that discriminate against women and girls. You can take action here to urge governments to strengthen their sexual violence and rape laws.