This Afghan Girl Used Her Musical Talents To Escape A Forced Marriage

The marriage was arranged to help pay her brother’s dowry.

By the time Sonita Alizadeh was 16 years old, her parents had already tried to sell her twice. At the time, Alizadeh was living with her family in Afghanistan, where the custom of forced child marriage is still common. Alizadeh, however, was able to end the arrangement both times; most recently, through the power of her first love: rap music. 

According to The New York Times, Alizadeh discovered rap music when she was living as a refugee in Iran. Her family had fled to the country from Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, but without an ID or proper papers, Alizadeh was unable to attend school. She worked at an NGO cleaning bathrooms and spent her free time watching music videos. Eventually, inspired by the artists she saw on TV, she started writing her own lyrics. 

Singing solo in Iran was illegal for women without special permission from the government. But, according to CNN, she was able to find a handful of music producers who recognized her talent and allowed her to record in their studios — despite her gender. 

As Alizadeh continued working on her music, her mother, who had returned three years earlier to Afghanistan, arrived in Iran with an announcement. Alizadeh's older brother was to be married, and in order to pay the dowry, Alizadeh herself would be married to a man in Afghanistan. 

"I love my mother, I'm not mad at her," she told The New York Times. "That moment I was thinking about society, about traditions, so I was sad because my mother couldn't understand what was inside me. But also I could understand, because her family did not listen to her."

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At this time, Alizadeh's burgeoning rapping career had come to the attention of Iranian filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami. Unwilling to compromise the truth of the the documentary he was working on about Alizadeh, but also wanting to help the young rapper, the filmmaker paid her family $2,000 to put off the marriage

The experience inspired the lyrics for the song that would be featured in Alizadeh's first music video. Called "Brides for Sale," the song talks about her country's tradition of selling girls as brides and the experience of growing up knowing she didn't have the right to choose. 

At the time of publication, the video has amassed over 700,000 views on YouTube. When it was spotted by Strongheart Group, an organization that helps individuals impacted by social issues tell their story, the group offered to sponsor a student visa for Alizadeh to study in the U.S.

According to CNN, when she arrived in the U.S., Alizadeh only knew the words "Hi" and "Bye" in English. But since then, Alizadeh has made a name for herself advocating against the practice of child marriage. The documentary about her, entitled Sonita, was screened at Sundance in 2016. Her goal in life, she tells The New York Times, is "to make child marriage illegal all over the world."

Watch her full music video below:

(H/T: PRI)

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