Until the age of 16, Sonita Alizadeh had known little other than war, poverty, and segregation. She grew up under Taliban rule, and her family fled war-torn Afghanistan for Iran when she turned eight. With no claim to asylum, Alizadeh was denied access to formal education in Tehran. She went to school at an NGO dedicated to educating refugees, where she also worked cleaning bathrooms. In her free time, she enjoyed listening to rap, and she developed a fascination with the revolutionary potential of protest songs.
Alizadeh's life took a dramatic turn when her mother announced that she would be sold to an Afghan family for $9,000 in order to earn the dowry her family needed for her brother's bride. In Afghanistan, the legal age of marriage for women is 16 years old, but 15 is allowed with the father's consent. Embattled by a family decision that would most likely sentence her to a life of subordination and ruin her artistic ambitions, Alizadeh wrote the rap song "Daughters for Sale," denouncing the archaic traditions that underpin forced marriage. She then released a music video with the help of Iranian documentary maker Ghaem Maghami, who paid her family to put off the wedding. The Strongheart Group, a nonprofit advocacy, and public-relations organization heard her story and offered her a scholarship to Wasatch Academy in Utah.
I talked with Alizadeh, now 20 years old, about how music saved her life and how she hopes it will save others' as well.
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