Sonita Alizadeh

When Sonita Alizadeh was born in Afghanistan in 1996, the country was controlled by the Taliban. Daily life was dangerous, and her childhood was quite difficult. She was only 10 when her family tried to sell her to a man who wanted to marry her—a very common occurrence in too many countries around the world. The arrangement fell through.

By the time she was 14, Alizadeh’s family had walked hundreds of miles to Iran to escape the Taliban. Without legal papers, she couldn’t attend school, so she cleaned offices and bathrooms to help her family. Fortunately, through an organization that provided basic education to young Afghan refugees in the region, she discovered a passion for writing and art and began experimenting with pop music. After hearing an Iranian rapper on the radio, she wrote her first rap, about child labor. Even though it was dangerous to speak out and illegal for women to sing, she could not remain silent.

One by one, Alizadeh saw her friends disappear from her classroom when they were forced to marry older men. At age 16, she was again told she had to be sold into marriage—her family needed money to pay for her brother’s wife. As a bride, she is worth $9,000. In protest, she wrote the rap song “Brides for Sale,” and with help from a filmmaker, she made a music video that went viral on YouTube with 1.4 million views. Rap music allowed Alizadeh to use her voice, tell her story, and spread the word about the grave impact of child marriage.

A nonprofit organization in the U.S. saw the video, reached out to Alizadeh, and facilitated her escape to Utah. Although she was safe from child marriage, she was not at peace. She continued to speak out, with her message reaching the highest levels of global leadership—countless young people worldwide have since joined her in the movement to end child marriage. A documentary about her life, entitled “Sonita,” premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in November 2015.

Sonita Alizadeh lives in New York, where she is a student at Bard College, Class of 2023. In addition to her studies and songwriting, she continues to serve as a passionate advocate for women and girls. She has shared the stage with heads of state, Nobel laureates, and renowned changemakers, and she has helped develop a curriculum on child marriage for over a million students. In 2020, Alizadeh was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia List in the entertainment and sports category, and that same year, she addressed the United Nations about child marriage and education for girls.