“We have to get community leaders to speak out against child marriage, and we need families to make different decisions for their daughters.”

– Sonita Alizadeh

ending child marriage

Sonita Alizadeh: The Voice I Have

Sonita Alizadeh is a force to be reckoned with. With a poet’s soul and activist’s passion, Sonita uses her rap lyrics and powerful voice to fight child marriage. Speaking out for the right of girls and women to choose their own destiny, Sonita’s advocacy began with herself when, as a teenager, she created the video above as a cry against her own impending marriage. The song was written from the viewpoint of her young friends also about to be sold, and is becoming a rallying cry for many girls across the globe . She succeeded in avoiding a marriage, and embarked upon a journey to end child marriage in the world.
While growing up as a refugee in Iran, Sonita met an acclaimed filmmaker who, over three years, documented her remarkable story in the the film SONITA. This film, which led to life-changing opportunities for Sonita, begins with her impoverished childhood on the streets of Tehran where she finds her voice through the power and beauty of rap. Her life takes an unexpected and near tragic turn when she is almost sold into marriage as a child bride. The film then journeys with Sonita as she uses her music to bravely escape that fate and forge a new path to fulfill her dreams. SONITA will be released in Europe November, 2015.
“I was born in a place where girls are forced to marry  — when they are CHILDREN. And, no one cares about women. I know what that does to girls — and also to society.”
Nineteen year old Sonita Alizadeh is raising her voice to end child marriage. With a poet’s soul and an 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.
I saw them with bruises on their faces. I heard them talking with fear about getting married. They were 15 and 16 years old, but they acted like old women, tired of being alive. They were being forced to marry and they were giving up on their own lives. I wanted to talk about that.”
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.
Strongheart saw the video and learned about Sonita’s dreams. We 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.
“We must work with families, in communities, and even with religious leaders to change the tradition of child marriage. Families need to learn new ways and see that there are other possibilities for their daughters.”
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 campaign, titled “Sonita’s Dream”, to increase public awareness and promote support for programs and policies that work to stop early forced marriage.
“Music gave me a way to understand my ideas and share my feelings about what I saw happening to girls.”
As part of this campaign, relationships with leading organizations that are working globally and at a national level have been developed and are growing. Site visits to programs working on child marriage in multiple countries are being planned, and relationships with organizations serving Afghanistan have started. Sonita is also working with key political players to inform the implementation of hallmark efforts, such as the new United States Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls.
Momentum is growing as Sonita’s voice reaches the highest levels of global leadership and civil society. Her story and vision to end child marriage has been featured on CNN, BBC, and over 200 media outlets in over twenty countries. In the past month alone, she hit Twitter Moments and her tweets have been seen by over 66,000 people. 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.
Sonita’s heart is always with her beloved homeland of Afghanistan, and all the girls around the world who have been married too young.
Every year, 15 millions girls are married as children. Child marriage is a human rights violation, perpetuator of poverty, and social condoner of violence. As a teenager who barely escaped being sold into marriage, Sonita is working to end child marriage in the world. Sonita, together in partnership with Strongheart, is building an international campaign to raise awareness about child marriage for the purpose of affecting legislation and large public funding on the issue.
To support Sonita’s campaign to end child marriage,