10-Years-Old — A very young age for life to happen to anyone. Sonita Alizadeh was all of ten years when her parents tried to sell her into marriage.
Born in Afghanistan, she was not the only girl who was being pushed into getting married at such young age. More than 57% of girls are married before they turn 19. That is the reality Alizadeh escaped.
Being 10, she did not realise the graveness of the subject, but at 16, when she faced the same, she knew what exactly she was dealing with here. Alizadeh was being sold into marriage to pay for her brother’s bride price.
How grave is that? Selling your daughter to buy someone else’s? But such is the reality of Afghanistan.
But Alizadeh is among the lucky ones, she did not let her destiny be written by someone else. Here is her story of escaping the reality of child marriage.
As a kid growing up in Taliban’s Afghanistan, she had to flee to Iran along with her family. She lived a life of a refugee and wasn’t allowed to go to school. She cleaned bathrooms and floors and learnt to read and write at an NGO. She grew up seeing her friends getting married one after the other. She would see their bruised faces but couldn’t do anything about it as it was a termed as ‘normal’.
“My friends get married at 15 years old and I saw them with bruises on their face. They were 15 or 16 years but they acted like old women and I started to rap to talk about that,” she said in an interview with BBC World News America’s Katty Kay.
Inspired by the likes of Rihanna, Eminem and Iranian rapper Yas, she started rapping. Rapping was her way of expressing her feelings.
During her time in Tehran in Iran, she met a documentary maker, Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami who helped Alizadeh polish her abilities. She documented Alizadeh’s life in all its rawness. One can see Alizadeh sitting in a corner of the house while her family discusses her bride price.
On being asked about how she felt when her own mother wanted to sell her off in marriage, Alizadeh in the interview said that “I love my mother, I’m not mad at her. 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.”
Alizadeh’s price was decided at $9,000. It was decided that she will be sold so that her brother can buy a bride for himself. The director, Ghaem Maghami had to pay $2000 dollars to buy Alizadeh’s freedom for some years of time. She helped Alizadeh make her first music video, ‘Bride for Sale’, which was released on Youtube, in an Iran where women aren’t allowed to sing without a male singer.
The music video, though in a language I don’t understand, brings home the idea it wants to convey. The girl dressed as a bride has a barcode painted on her forehead and to go with that, she has bruises painted on her eyes. Need we words to describe the actions? The rap itself is full of rage. If one starts reading the subtitles, the song becomes much more powerful with so much say, so many questions to ask. The song begs to be heard and calls for an action. The videos starts with Alizeh whispering
“My voice shouldn’t be heard as it is against sharia/Women must remain silent/This is this city’s tradition.”
The whispers become loud screams with words which tug at your heart
“I scream to make up for a woman’s lifetime silence/I scream on behalf of the deep wounds on my body/I scream for a body exhausted in its cage/A body that broke under the price tags you put on it.”
The video gained popularity worldwide within days of its launch.
Sonita Alizadeh now resides in the US and studies at the Wasatch Academy. She was offered a full scholarship there, which with the help of her director, she successfully availed without her family knowing about it.
Now, Sonita Alizadeh is an activist. She wants to become a lawyer and wants to end child marriage all over the world.
In the interview, when asked about her family going through a change of mind now, she said,” Yes, because in Afghanistan, they hear my song from TV, from radio. Now they realise as a girl I have power and I can change my future.”