Noura Hussein’s story is a disturbingly familiar one. It affects more than Sudan, more than Africa.
While I may initially be perceived as an outsider because I am not Sudanese, I am not an outsider when it comes to the issue of child brides and child sexual assault.
I was born in the United States, but I spent much of my childhood in Nigeria — another country in which child marriage and sexual assault against young girls is all too common. In the course of my life, I’ve heard countless stories from my friends, family and partners who have been deeply traumatized by child marriage and sexual assault.
Noura’s courageous story has the potential to change the lives of girls around the world who are enduring legalized pedophilia and legalized rape.
For those unfamiliar, Noura Hussein, now 19, was just 15 years old when she was forced by her parents to marry a man more than twice her age. After refusing to have sex with her husband on their “honeymoon,” she says he raped her as his relatives restrained her. She says that a day later, when he tried to rape her again, she stabbed him to death. Despite medical evidence of Hussein’s struggle submitted by her lawyers, including bite marks on her shoulder, cuts on her hand and a broken bed, the man’s family has denied the rape allegation. When she went to her parents for support, they turned her in to the police, and Noura was subsequently sentenced to death.
However her legal team appealed — and it was at that point that I began strategizing with advocates that were working to bring both justice and light to Noura’s case, given that her struggle was far from over.
When the appellate court repealed her death sentence, I was thrilled, but only temporarily. I knew that Noura still faced five years in prison, a hefty fine and threats to her safety if she were to be released.
With the victory of the death penalty appeal, I became concerned that Noura’s story may evaporate in the media, and I knew then that I needed to publicly advocate for her and the millions of Nouras across the world who don’t have a spotlight on them.
I am now working with SEEMA — a non-governmental organization based in Khartoum that assists victims of gender-based violence — to raise additional funds for Noura.
SEEMA is also currently working to reduce Noura’s charge to self-defense, as well as advocate on behalf of other Sudanese women struggling in abusive relationships.
This is not a battle that Noura’s team, nor the organizations working on the ground, can wage alone. And so I am encouraging people across the globe to look up the laws for marriage in your country, state or province.
If you don’t like what you see, reach out to a local or national program working on this issue or to international organizations such as Women’s World Wide Web, a platform dedicated to girl’s empowerment and education, or Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of 900 organizations devoted to ending child marriage. Your support can put an end to this in our lifetime.
Over the next few months, I’ll be working to increase awareness of the prevalence of child marriage and assault, spread advocacy messages across social media and fight for the legal age of marriage to be 18 in every country.
Furthermore, I will continue to emphasize to men around the world that these are not exclusively women’s issues; these are our issues and they will only be resolved once we stand in support of women who have supported us since the beginning of time.
Our girls — regardless of ethnicity, religion or socio-economic class — deserve a chance to be educated, to gain independence and to pursue their dreams. Let’s make sure they all have that chance in every corner of the planet.