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 tragedies 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.
The tradition of forced marriage and exchange of female freedoms for money, protection arrangements, or other forms of currency, is practised in most cultures and societies. Compensation collected for the exchange of a daughter or sister acts as a lifeline for many families who face violence, poverty or insecurity. Sudan has one of the highest rates of forced marriage in the world: an epidemic caused by generations of civil war. Situations of conflict and north-south dispute have been linked to 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, placing large populations at risk of domestic abuse. 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. Sudanese legal systems are influenced by Sharia Law. Many of the religious traditions and ideologies of Sharia restrict the freedoms of women, violate their rights, and enforce honour punishments that hold girls captive in abusive marriages. The death penalty was made legal under Article 27 of the Sudanese Criminal Act 1991, enabling honour killings of women inside courts of law. The government’s impermissible restrictions on information are blocking investigations into criminal prosecutions of women who seek escape, and of Sudan’s use of the death penalty.
The government’s campaign of censorship failed to suppress one story of marital rape, self-defiance, 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 became a victim of early marriage at sixteen. She 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, her fight for justice is not over.
Noura is one of many child brides losing battles for their freedom: the Government of Sudan is ignoring calls to change legislation of the death penalty, and 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 oppressive traditions that are sentencing many more to a lifetime of forced marriage. The campaign to get #JusticeForNoura must continue.
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