ending child marriage in one generation
Nineteen year old Sonita Alizadeh is raising her voice to end child marriage. With a poet’s soul and activist’s passion, she uses rap, conviction and courage to stand up for girls’ rights and share her powerful story with the world. Born in Afghanistan, Sonita’s family fled to Iran to escape the Taliban when she was a child, and she grew up as an undocumented refugee in Tehran. As a young teenager, she cleaned offices and sold handicrafts to support herself, all while attending basic education classes at a local NGO. While there, she saw her friends disappear from the classroom one-by-one, as they were forced to marry. During this time, a documentary filmmaker learned about Sonita and took an interest in her difficult circumstances. For three years she followed Sonita, capturing both her striving and her struggles, including when Sonita’s family decided to sell her. They needed money to pay for her brother’s wife. However, Sonita had other ideas for her life. In response to her impending marriage and the feelings of so many of her friends, Sonita wrote the song “Daughters for Sale” and recorded a music video with the help of the filmmaker. They posted it, and it quickly went viral. The non-profit organization Strongheart saw the video and learned about Sonita’s dreams. They facilitated her journey out of Iran and brought her to the United States. In January 2015, after being denied a formal education her whole life, Sonita began her first year of school as a student at the international, college preparatory Wasatch Academy in Utah on a full scholarship. She now has the opportunity to pursue her dream of bringing an end to child marriage and eventually becoming a human rights attorney. Sonita knows that while tradition and poverty drive families to sell their girls, most families ultimately want what is best for their daughters. Through Strongheart, she is building an international youth movement to mobilize youth voices to call for an end to child marriage in countries all around the world. Momentum is growing as Sonita’s voice reaches the highest levels of global leadership and civil society. Her story and vision has been featured on CNN, BBC, and over 200 media outlets in over twenty countries. The documentary about her teenage life, titled “Sonita”, premiered in Europe at IDFA 2015 winning the Audience Award. In the US, it premiered at Sundance 2016 winning the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award and has been touring film festivals around the world to much acclaim. Sonita has shared the stage with global leaders including at Women in the World Summits in London and New York City, and the Skoll World Forum in Oxford. She recently was the keynote performance at the United States Department of State’s International Women of Courage Awards, and the lead-in to Secretary Kerry and Vice President Biden. Sonita was named one of BBC’s 100 Women of 2015, Teen Vogue’s “Faces of Feminism”, and Foreign Policy Magazine’s Global Thinkers of 2015.