How Afghan rapper Sonita escaped forced marriage by rapping about it

Every year 15 million girls enter into child marriages, all of them under the age of 18 at the time of their wedding. For many families, selling a daughter as a bride can earn them a life-altering amount of money, but according to the organization Girls Not Brides, most girls are put at immediate risk of pregnancy, STDs, domestic abuse, and a lack of access to education, healthcare, and personal independence. It all adds up to a generation after generation of disenfranchised women — even right here in the United States.  

Most girls who are told they will be married off are unable to escape their fate, but one Afghan teenager is using her story of escape — and the power of music — to inspire girls like herself to keep hope alive and to encourage people around the world to protect the childhoods of girls everywhere.

Her name is Sonita and last week at the Women In The World London Summit, she shared her story, which involves narrowly escaping child marriage — twice. First, at 10 years old, her mother told her she was considering selling her into marriage.

“I wasn’t sad then because I didn’t know what she was talking about. It was like dress-ups,” says Sonita.

For the next six years, she felt safe from the prospect of being married off early, but when she turned 16, her mother told her they would go through with a marriage to help pay the dowry on her brother’s marriage. Sonita was told she’d be married to a complete stranger.

“I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t speak,” she says. “My heart broke. It was too hard to imagine marrying someone I didn’t know.”

But rather than accept her fate, Sonita grabbed a pen and paper and began writing her thoughts on child marriage down, then she set those lyrics to a roiling beat. The result is the song “Brides for Sale,” and a powerful and emotional music video that sees Sonita dressed as a battered child bride with a barcode on her forehead.

“I scream for a body exhausted in its cage,” she raps. “A body that broke under the price tags you put on it.”

After finishing the video, Sonita put it on YouTube and waited for word of it to get back to her mother. She says her mother, married off at the age of 13, “didn’t show . . . much emotion,” but that writing the song did change her fate. Her mother told her she liked the video. Sonita is now 18, unmarried, and studying music in the United States.

“In my country a good girl should be silent, don’t talk about her future, and listen to her family even if they say you have to marry him or him or him,” says Sonita. “But I am a singer and I want a shiny future.”

And it looks like she’ll get her wish. Check out the moving “Brides for Sale” video below:

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[Image via YouTube]