Noura Hussein was sentenced to death by hanging on 10 May 2018. A court in Sudan found her guilty of intentional murder. Her case has generated international outcry and calls for her sentence to be reconsidered. Noura’s situation highlights that despite some successes in addressing child marriage globally, we still have a long way to go.
After being forced into marriage at 16, Noura refused to consummate the marriage. Her husband raped her, while his two brothers and a male cousin pinned her down. The next day, her husband tried to rape her again. After a struggle, Noura sustained injuries while her husband sustained fatal knife wounds.
Child marriage has devastating impacts
Noura’s story is not an isolated one. Married girls continue to face violence in many forms. Child marriage in itself is a form of violence that disproportionately affects girls globally. 12 million girls become child brides every year, according to UNICEF. In Noura’s home country Sudan, 34% of girls are married in childhood.
Many families marry their daughters off because they believe it will help them. For example, they hope child marriage will help their daughters avoid poverty, violence or family shame. However, child marriage exposes girls to severe risk. Child brides are more likely to experience sexual, physical, psychological and emotional violence. Globally, girls who marry before the age of 15 are almost 50% more likely to have experienced physical or sexual violence from a partner than girls who married after 18.
We need a holistic approach to end child marriage
Noura refused to have sex with her husband but faced terrible consequences. Child brides often struggle to assert their wishes to their husbands or negotiate safe and consensual sex. Not only do girls need to be empowered, but their families and communities need to support them.
The Girls’ Not Brides’ theory of change highlights how we need a holistic approach to ending child marriage. If a girl is empowered but the people around her are not informed about the impact of child marriage, and her community does not enforce strong laws against it, how can she truly be free from violence?
As Noura is paying the cost for wanting to make her own choices, it is important to reflect on ways to break the silence for millions of girls like Noura whose rights are being violated daily. The #JusticeForNoura movement began in Sudan and quickly spread around the world. It shows that a strong and organised civil society movement can draw attention to a devastating child marriage case that might otherwise have been forgotten.
Nobody should have to suffer any form of violence. To end violence against women and girls, we need to end child marriage everywhere.
Today, Noura’s lawyers are due to submit an appeal. Today we stand together with all the Nouras around the world.
In the time it has taken to read this article 28 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds
Girls Not Brides
Mundia Situmbeko is the Africa Engagement Officer at Girls Not Brides. Mundia focuses on strengthening our engagement in selected high prevalence countries in Africa, working with Girls Not Brides members and National Partnerships to influence governments to implement their commitments.