Jawed Basharat / AP
This photo taken Dec. 28 shows Sahar Gul, a 15-year-old Afghan wife, being carried in a wheelchair to a hospital in Baghlan, north of Kabul, Afghanistan.
A 10-man police force is hunting down the husband of a teen bride who was tortured and locked away in a toilet by her in-laws for months after she refused to become a prostitute, Afghan officials told the BBC.
"This is incredibly serious and not acceptable and all those responsible will be brought in to make an example to others," an Interior Ministry spokesman told the BBC on Tuesday.
Sahar Gul, 15, was in critical condition when she was rescued from a house in Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan province last week, after her neighbors reported hearing her crying and moaning in pain.
The case has shocked Afghanistan, though rights activists say serious abuses against women and girls in the ultra-conservative society are common. President Hamid Karzai has said that whoever used violence against Gul will be punished.
Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law were arrested, but her husband, Ghulam Sakhi, 30, has eluded authorities, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said.
Sakhi was identified as a soldier in the Afghan National Army who served in Helmand Province, The New York Times reported.
'One of the worst cases'
According to officials in northeastern Baghlan province, Gul's in-laws kept the girl in a basement for six months, ripped her fingernails out, tortured her with hot irons and broke her fingers.
"She was married seven months ago, and was originally from Badakhshan province. Her in-laws tried to force her into prostitution to earn money," Rahima Zarifi, head of women's affairs in Baghlan, told Reuters.
Gul was covered in scars and bruises, with one eye still swollen shut six days after her rescue. She was being treated in a government hospital in Kabul, but her recovery needed extensive care and she may have to be sent to India, doctors said.
"This is one of the worst cases of violence against Afghan women. The perpetrators must be punished so others learn a lesson," health minister Suraya Dalil told journalists after meeting with the victim last week.
"This is an un-Islamic and inhuman act,” Baghlan governor, Munshi Abdul Majid, told The New York Times.
Distressing chapter in Afghan culture
Despite progress in women's rights and freedom since the fall of the Taliban a decade ago, women throughout the country are still at risk of abduction, rape, forced marriage and being traded as commodity.
It can be difficult for women to escape violent situations at home, because of relentless social and sometimes legal pressure to stay in marriages.
Running away from an abusive husband is considered a "moral crime," for which women can be imprisoned in Afghanistan.
Some rape victims have also been imprisoned, because sex outside marriage, even when the woman is forced, is considered adultery, another "moral crime."
Msnbc.com's Sevil Omer and Reuters contributed to this report.
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