By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) - A 15-year-old Afghan girl was brutally tortured, beaten and locked in a toilet by her husband's family for months after she refused to become a prostitute, officials said Saturday.
Sahar Gul was in critical condition when she was rescued from a house in northern Baghlan province last week, after her neighbors reported hearing Gul crying and moaning in pain.
According to police in Baghlan, her in-laws pulled out her nails and hair, and locked her in a dark basement bathroom for about five months, with barely enough food and water to survive.
"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 is covered in scars and bruises, with one eye still swollen shut six days after her rescue. She is being treated in a government hospital in Kabul, but her recovery could take weeks 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 visiting Gul Saturday with the women's affairs minister.
Mohammad Zia, a senior police official in Baghlan who helped rescue the girl, said Gul's mother-in-law and sister-in-law have been detained, but her husband and father-in-law had escaped.
"We have launched a serious hunt to get her husband and the others involved," Zia told Reuters via phone from Baghlan.
Despite progress in women's rights and freedom since the fall of the Taliban 10 years ago, women throughout the country are still at risk of abduction, rape, forced marriage and being traded as commodity.
However it can be hard for women to escape violent situations at home, because of huge social and sometimes legal pressure to stay in marriages.
Running away from an abusive husband or a forced marriage are considered "moral crimes," for which women are currently 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."
(Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Ed Lane)