September 12th, 2018
The Bride Price in Sudan
The government’s efforts to suppress protests, attack media freedoms, and intimidate activists with threats of criminal prosecution are veiling crimes of sexual violence and human rights violations against child brides in Sudan. Girls and young women who attempt to escape forced marriage, or take action to defend themselves against abuse are endangering their lives and freedoms by appealing to laws that enforce honour-related violence and oppression of women.
Traditions of forced marriage and the exchange of female freedoms for money, arrangements of protection, or other forms of currency, is practised in many cultures and societies across the world. In many cases, compensation collected for the exchange of a daughter or sister acts as a lifeline for families who live in situations of violence or poverty. Sudan has one of the highest rates of forced marriage in the world, an epidemic caused by generations of civil war; conflict and north-south disputes have been linked to the escalating numbers of brideprice ceremonies in the country’s fragile states, where girls as young as ten are being sold into marriage.
The sexual and reproductive rights of child brides are forfeited in forced marriage, a contract in which marital rape continues with impunity, and expressions of violence continue without punishment. According to UNICEF, 34 per cent of Sudanese girls are married in childhood. These brides are vulnerable to the trauma of battery, sexual violence and life-threatening pregnancies.
Concerns for the safety of those who are married, or at risk of child marriage, are heightening as civil freedoms are restricted. The legal system in Sudan is influenced by Sharia Law, under which, religious traditions and ideologies restrict the liberty of women, violate their rights, and enforce honour punishments that hold many captive in abusive marriages.
Under Article 27 of the Sudanese Criminal Act 1991, the death penalty was made legal, enabling the honour killing of women inside courts of law. At present, impermissible restrictions on information are blocking investigations into the criminal prosecution of women who seek escape, and of Sudan’s use of the death penalty.
The Sudanese government’s campaign of censorship has failed to silence one story of marital rape, self-defence, and the wrongful prosecution of a child bride appealing for her freedom. The case gained notoriety amongst human rights bodies, sparked international outrage, and was protested by one million voices around the world in a campaign to get #JusticeForNoura.
Noura Hussein suffered a violent assault at the hands of her husband, Abdulrahman Hammad, and by three other members of his family. Noura was prepared to take her own life if he attacked her again, instead, she acted in self-defence. The international community pleaded Noura’s innocence and placed pressure on the Islamic Court of Sudan to repeal the charge of premeditated murder. Her sentence was reversed to five years’ imprisonment under the condition that 337,000 Sudanese pounds (£14,358) would be paid in blood money, or diya, to her rapist’s family.
This half-victory for human rights has been crushed as the Islamic Court of Sudan declares its intention to reinstate Noura’s death sentence. The court’s decision is destroying hopes for legal reform that had been inspired by her pardoning: false promises to exonerate Noura pulled her case out of the media spotlight, shaking international scrutiny over Sudan’s misuse of capital punishment. There are many new concerns for Noura’s safety as she receives public threats for revenge ,and even with widespread support from the international community, the fight for justice is not yet over.
Noura is one of many child brides losing the battle for her freedom. The Government of Sudan is ignoring calls to change legislation of the death penalty, and is failing to strengthen measures of protection for women who seek escape from violence. Girls and young women are locked into abuse by discriminatory laws, threats of the death penalty, and traditions of early marriage that are sentencing many more to a lifetime of abuse. The campaign to get #JusticeForNoura must continue.
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