Editor's note: This post contains language and details of sexual violence.
Noura Hussein, a 19-year-old Sudanese woman, captured international attention last month after being sentenced to death for stabbing her husband in self-defense. Outrage over her sentence gave rise to #JusticeforNoura, a social media campaign in support of the young woman who was forced into an early marriage during which her husband raped her.
On Tuesday, Noura’s death sentence was commuted, the High Court in Um Durman, Sudan, announced. But justice for Noura is not quite served.
Though she no longer faces the death penalty, she was given a five-year prison sentence — some of which she has already served while awaiting the outcome of her trial and appeal, according to women’s rights organization Equality Now. Noura, whose family disowned her after her arrest, has also been ordered to pay a fine of nearly $19,000 (337,500 Sudanese pounds) to her deceased husband’s family.
Noura was 16 when her family told her it was time to get married. The man they had chosen was a distant cousin who was twice her age, according to activists in Sudan.
Noura hoped to become a teacher and wanted to continue her studies, so she ran away. She lived with her aunt until she finished high school, but upon graduating was persuaded to return home by her father, who promised that the wedding was off.
Once home, Noura was forced to marry her 35-year-old cousin, Abdulrahman Mohamed Hammad.
For several days, the 19-year-old refused to have sex with Hammad.
"On the ninth day his relatives came, his uncle told me to go to the bedroom. I said no so he dragged me by my arm into the bedroom and his cousin slapped me,” Hussein said. Her first-hand account was obtained and published by CNN.
“All of them tore at my clothing. His uncle held me down by my legs and each of the other two held down my arms. He stripped and had me while I wept and screamed. Finally, they left the room. I was bleeding, I slept naked," she said.
When Hammad tried to have sex with Noura again the next night, she resisted. Hammad threatened her with a knife and the two struggled, but Noura ultimately grabbed the knife, fatally stabbing Hammad twice.
Because Sudan does not recognize marital rape as a crime, the court does not recognize any crime committed against Noura. Despite the overturning of her death sentence, Noura is still seen as the criminal — not the victim — in her case.
“Sentencing her to five years in prison and a fine for defending herself against her rapist is still not acceptable and we are looking at next steps to support her,” Judy Gitau, who led nonprofit Equality Now’s campaign in support of Noura, said in a statement. According to CNN, Noura’s lawyers intend to appeal both her jail sentence and fine.
Still, the court’s decision to overturn Noura’s sentence is monumental.
📢Breaking📢 Sudan has repealed the death penalty for 19-year-old Noura Hussein, who was sentenced for killing her husband, after he tried to rape her. Thank you to over 400,000 of you who demanded #JusticeForNoura & helped make this happen! pic.twitter.com/euzWQ4LuUX— AmnestyInternational (@amnesty) June 26, 2018
"This decision marks the beginning of the end of child marriage in Sudan,” Gitau told Global Citizen.
The minimum age for marriage in Sudan is still just 10 years old with a judge’s permission or parental consent — the lowest of any African country. About 1 in every 3 Sudanese girls is married before she turns 18, according to the nonprofit Girls Not Brides.
“[The decision] signifies the day women and men of goodwill in Sudan said, ‘enough to the raping and marrying off of children.’ And marks a departure from the days when everyone would watch quietly as women and girls are brutalised and criminalised for speaking up about their rights,” Gitau said.
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.
If you have experienced sexual abuse, call the free, confidential National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) in the US, or access 24-7 help online by visiting online.rainn.org. You can find international resources here.