Afghani children know her songs by heart. Sonita Alizadeh screams out against an ancient Afghan tradition in which young girls are sold as a piece of cattle for a couple of thousand dollars. Since ‘Brides for Sale’ (2014), Sonita is a star in Afghanistan. The great success of the documentary Sonita (2015) by Iranian filmmaker Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami, adds to the worldwide interest in Sonita’s activist message, being: ‘Girls are no cattle’.
Less than three years ago, teenager Sonita herself was still facing the threat of a forced marriage in Afghanistan. Her mother intended to sell her for 9000 dollars to be able to buy a bride for one of Sonita’s brothers. With the help of Ghaemmaghami she escaped this fate and became what she dreamt of being: a rapper-activist with a large audience.
Rokhsareh Ghaemmaghami started filming Sonita in the summer of 2012. She was just one of the estimated 3 million Afghan refugees living in Iran. Sonita sold ‘fortune cards’ in the streets and went to the Society for Protection of Working and Street Children, a centre in the Iranian capital Tehran where illegal children are taught to read and write and receive trauma therapy.
Sonita is a rather sullen looking girl, shrugging her shoulders about laughs of others at her ambition to become a rap-star, while living in a country in which there’s a law forbidding women to sing. Only her burning black eyes show her determination. By the time Ghaemmaghami stopped filming Sonita, the girl had won an internet rap-contest, escaped forced marriage and had attained a fellowship by an American NGO, allowing her to study in the US and professionalize as an artist and activist.
Sonita’s ambition today is to ‘study hard and become a lawyer’. She is still learning to speak English and hopes to be able to enter college in one-and-a-half years’ time. ‘Ultimately I would like to start my own organization in Afghanistan to help end child marriage and forced marriage altogether.’
She strongly confirms that she also intends to continue making music: ‘I’ll be a rapping lawyer! Why not?’
By Jonneke van Wierst