Eighteen-year-old Sonita Alizadeh's mom first started talking about selling her to a man when she was ten years old. At the time, Sonita and her family lived in Afghanistan, where forced marriage is still common. Sonita found a way to escape, though -- through rap. After posting a video to YouTube, she was awarded a full scholarship to a music school in the U.S.
According to a report from CNN, when she was still a kid, Sonita's family fled the Taliban in Afghanistan and moved to Iran.
As a teen in Iran, she didn't have access to a formal education, but after learning how to read and write, she fell in love with music videos, rap and Eminem. She started rapping about her life -- the war in Afghanistan, her family's refugee status, and the issues facing Afghan women and youth.
According to CNN, "While Afghan civil law says that a girl cannot marry until she is 16, or 15 with her father's consent, the United Nations claims that some 15% of Afghan females are married before age 15. Of all Afghan marriages combined, roughly 60 to 80% of them are forced..."
CNN also reported that "singing solo as a female is illegal in Iran without special permission from the government," but that Sonita was able to "rap in secret with the help of a few defiant music producers."
When Sonita was sixteen, her mother proposed selling her into marriage again, and CNN reported that this time Sonita was old enough to know what that meant. She was heartbroken and terrified, but she responded by teaming up with an Iranian filmmaker and creating the music video for her song "Brides For Sale," in which she wears a wedding veil, fake bruises, and a bar code on her forehead while rapping lyrics that translate to lines like "Let me scream/I am tired of the silence/Lift your hands off me/I feel suffocated."
She posted it to YouTube, where it caught the attention of the Strongheart Group, which works to amplify the voices of traditionally marginalized people through art. They offered her a visa and a full scholarship to Wasatch Academy in Utah.
Sonita didn't tell her mother because she was afraid she wouldn't let her go. According to CNN, she was 17 when the paperwork finally went through -- she didn't call her mom to tell her where she'd gone until she'd safely arrived in the U.S. That was last January. Now, Sonita is thriving the U.S. and is hard at work on some new music.
She's also getting pretty famous. In addition to being hero to many young women in Afghanistan, a documentary about her journey called "Sonita" will premier at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam next month, and last week Sonita took the stage at London's Women In The World summit to share her story.
“In my country a good girl should be silent, don’t talk about her future and listen to her family even if they say you have to marry him or him or him," Sonita said at the summit. "A good girl is like a dog, who they play with. But I am a singer and I want a shiny future.”
According to a report from the New York Times, Sonita also said during the summit that she doesn't resent her mother -- and that her mother has also finally come around about her independence and her music career.
“My mother was 13 when she was married," she said. "Everyone had told her that she was a woman and had no value. This is what her family has told her and that is what she believed. My music was a nightmare for her. Now, she is one of my biggest fans.”