The Defenders

Sonita Alizadeh

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“My vision ... is a world where every girl is allowed to reach her full potential, make her own choices, and live the life she chooses for herself.”

Sonita Alizadeh was born in Afghanistan at a time when it was controlled by the Taliban. Daily life was dangerous, and her childhood was challenging. Sonita’s family tried to sell her at age 10 to a man who wanted to marry her. This is very common in some countries around the world. The arrangement fell through.

When Sonita was 14, her family walked hundreds of miles in the rain and snow to Iran to escape the Taliban. To support her family, she cleaned offices and bathrooms. Since she had no legal papers in Iran, she couldn’t go to school. But, she found an organization that provided basic education to young Afghans in the region. While there, she discovered a passion for writing and art and began experimenting with pop music.

After hearing an Iranian rapper on the radio, she wrote her first rap about child labor. Even though it was dangerous to speak out and illegal for a girl to rap alone, she could not remain silent.

One by one, she began to see her friends disappear from her classroom when they were forced to marry older men. At age 16, Sonita was again told she had to be sold into marriage because her family needed money to pay for her brother’s wife. In response, she wrote the rap song “Daughters for Sale” and, with help from a filmmaker who was recording her story, she made a music video and posted it to YouTube. It went viral. Rap music allowed Sonita to use her voice to tell her story and to explain the negative impact of child marriage.

“Daughters for Sale” was seen by a nonprofit organization in the U.S. that reached out to Sonita and helped her escape to Utah. Although she was safe from child marriage, she was not at peace. She continued to share her story and speak out about child marriage. Her message is reaching the highest levels of global leadership and many young people around the world who are joining her in the movement to end child marriage.

What is child marriage?

Child marriage is any formal marriage or informal union where one or both of the parties is under 18 years of age. Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. That’s 23 girls every minute. Child marriage is a truly global problem that cuts across countries, cultures, religions, and ethnicities. Child brides can be found in every region of the world -- from the Middle East to Latin America, South Asia, and Europe.

At its heart, child marriage is rooted in the belief that girls and women are inferior to boys and men. In many places, it happens because it has happened for generations. In poorer countries, it is considered as a way to give the family some financial security and one less mouth to feed. In some nations at war, families think that selling their daughters into marriage will help keep them safe; unfortunately, they are unaware of the violence that comes to many child brides.

Child marriage violates fundamental human rights like education, equality, health, and freedom from violence. Child marriage is an issue and concern all over the world.

Want to join the fight against child marriage?

  • Learn more about childhood marriage here.
  • Raise awareness about childhood marriage on social media by using these infographics and statistics from this site.
  • Share information and participate in the “Too Young to Wed” campaign.
  • Stand with Sonita and sign this pledge to stop child marriage.
  • Write your own rap or other art form to express your feelings about childhood marriage.

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Led by human rights activist and lawyer Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has advocated for a more just and peaceful world since 1968. We work alongside local activists to ensure lasting positive change in governments and corporations. Whether in the United States or abroad, our programs have pursued justice through strategic litigation on key human rights issues, educated millions of children in human rights advocacy and fostered a social good approach to business and investment.