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Girls & Women

This girl’s powerful rap saved her from child marriage

When Sonita Alizadeh was 15 her parents were getting ready to sell her to a man for marriage. Now, she's studying on a full scholarship in the US thanks to rap music. 

In Afghanistan, where Sonita is originally from, 57% of girls are married before they are 19. In Iran, where she was living as a refugee with her family, 40,000 girls under 15 are married each year.

After Sonita arrived in Iran at the age of 8, she began to study at a nonprofit school that educates refugees. There, she discovered her passion for music, particularly for rapping. She also gained the knowledge and cultural awareness to know that child marriage is a horrible tradition that would drastically limit her life.

When she was 10, her parents tried and failed to sell her into a marriage. Then, when she was 15, her parents tried again.

This time, Sonita channeled her despair into a rap video. In the piece, Sonita has a bar code painted on her forehead--symbolizing the transactional and dehumanizing nature of child marriage--and she has bruises under her eyes--symbolizing the rampant domestic abuse that child brides suffer. About halfway through, Sonita changes outfits. Now, she's wearing a traditional western wedding gown, but she still has bruises and her mouth is dripping blood. It's a grotesque contrast--the seeming purity of a white wedding gown and the violence of her wounds.

Throughout, Sonita raps eloquently and with nuance. She acknowledges the traditions and the poverty that make child marriage an inevitable event for many families. She never condemns her parents for putting her in this situation. 

Instead, she pleads for them to see that she is a human who deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and that some traditions should be left in the past, "So tell me, what can I do to prove my personhood?"

Sonita's parents saw the video and, contrary to her expectations, were impressed and revoked the marriage sale.

They encouraged her to cultivate her talent. 

After seeing the performance on Youtube (the video has close to 500,000 views) a college prepatory school in the US state of Utah offered her a full scholarship. 

Sonita's now 19 and has been in the US for a year. Before she arrived, she only knew two words in English: Hi and Bye. 

She's still learning the breadth of the language, but she's confident enough to have spoken before an audience of thousands at the Women in the World Summit on April 7th. 

At the event, Sonita explained that she wants to become a lawyer so that she can fight against laws throughout the world that allow child marriage. 

Sonita's a true champion of human rights. After she liberated herself, she directed her attention to all the other young girls who are unable to break free from child marriage. 

For now, Sonita is performing her rap at shows in the US. Someday she wants to return to her family and perform in front of all her fans in Iran and Afghanistan. 

As she told PRI, “Rap music let’s you tell your story to other people. Rap music is a platform to share the words that are in my heart.”

You can support Sonita through her nonprofit that fights to end child marriage