June 27, 2018 / 12:28 PM / 5 months ago

Legal fate of Sudanese teen fuels debate over child marriage

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A legal battle over a teenager in Sudan who killed her husband as he tried to rape her has shone a spotlight on widespread child marriage in the African nation, campaigners said.

Noura Hussein, 19, was sentenced to death in May after a Sharia court, which follows Islamic religious laws, found her guilty of premeditated murder for stabbing her husband, whom she was forced to marry.

A court of appeal on Tuesday rejected the death penalty, reducing Hussein’s crime to manslaughter and punishing her with five years in jail and a fine of 375 Sudanese pounds ($20).

“We are of course elated, but this is just one small step in the right direction for women in Sudan,” said Judy Gitau, a lawyer with the charity Equality Now, which is working with Hussein’s legal team.

“We still aren’t satisfied with the five years in prison as it’s not fair for a girl who was trying to defend herself.”

Gitau said Hussein’s lawyers plan to visit her in prison, where she has been held for two months, to see if she will appeal once again.

Hussein claims that her father forced her to marry her 35-year-old cousin when she was 16, but she did not live with him until April this year.

She said she refused to have sex with her husband, but he raped her as three of his relatives held her down. The following day, he attempted to rape her again and, as she struggled to stop him, she stabbed and killed him.

Marital rape and child marriage are not considered crimes in the predominately Muslim African nation.

Sudanese law allows for the marriage of a girl once she hits puberty, and a 10-year-old girl can be married by a guardian with the permission of a judge.

Hussein’s story drew condemnation from the United Nations and rights groups who argued that Hussein was a victim of child marriage and acted in self defense.

Celebrities from model Naomi Campbell to actors Emma Watson and Mira Sorvino campaigned to rescue the teenager under the hashtag #JusticeForNoura, and almost 1.5 million people signed an online petition for clemency.

Hussein’s supporters welcomed the quashing of the death penalty, but urged more lasting change in a country where one in three women wed under 18, according to UN Women.

“We commend the Sudan government for overturning the death sentence on #Noura,” the Civil Society Forum on the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, a coalition of child rights charities, said on Twitter.

“We thank all of you who participated in campaigning for #JusticeForNoura. As we continue to call for #EndChildMarriage.”

Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths and Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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