Nineteen year old Afghan rap singer, Sonita Alizadeh, known for protesting child marriage through her songs, was recently depicted in a documentary entitled Sonita, which just won the 2016 World Cinema Documentary Audience Award. Sonita’s documentary was directed by the Iranian film maker, Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami.
Originally from Afghanistan, Sonita’s family moved to Iran when she was only eight years old, where she was banned from attending school because she was undocumented. Instead, Sonita found work at a non-profit that assisted undocumented Afghan kids. There she learned karate, photography, guitar, and realized a passion for singing and rapping.
Sonita’s parents first attempted to marry her off at the age of ten. After that marriage fell through, Sonita cherished her independence until the age of sixteen when she was told by her mother that they had to return to Afghanistan because there was a man who wanted to marry her. Her parents requested the suitor pay them US$9,000 for their daughter’s hand in marriage. With that money, the parents could afford to pay the US$7,000 for their son’s wedding. Sonita was devastated and protested against the decision by crafting a song and video entitled “Brides for Sale.”
The video depicts Sonita dressed in wedding clothes with a barcode on her forehead pleading with her family not to be sold, saying, “I am seen as a sheep grown only to be devoured.” Sonita’s video received wide circulation on the internet and on Afghan TV, bringing mass amounts of public attention to her plea for freedom. Even her mother, who herself was married off at thirteen, thought the video was impressive. Months later, Sonita was offered a full scholarship to study music through the Amplify Program at Wasatch Academy in Utah and jumped at the chance.
In early 2014, Sonita won the ‘Best Female’ prize in Argus Productions’ election anthem song contest with a rap encouraging Afghans to vote in elections. Sonita has also written rap songs about her life as a refugee in Iran, as well as about, Farkhunda, a woman who was stoned and beaten to death in Afghanistan after being falsely accused of burning a Koran. Though her mother originally considered Sonita’s music to be a “nightmare,” she has grown to be one of her daughter’s greatest supporters.