KABUL, Afghanistan – The in-laws of a child bride who became the bruised and bloodied face of women's rights in Afghanistan have been sentenced to 10 years in prison for torture, abuse and human rights violations, a judge said Saturday.
The plight of 15-year-old Sahar Gul captivated the nation and set off a storm of international condemnation when it came to light in late December. Officials said her husband's family kept her in a basement for six months after her arranged marriage, ripping out her fingernails, breaking her fingers and torturing her with hot irons in an attempt to force her into prostitution.
She was rescued by police in northeastern Baghlan province after an uncle alerted authorities.
Gul's husband's father, mother and sister were each sentenced to 10 years in prison by a court in Kabul on Tuesday, presiding judge Sibghatullah Razi said.
Also found guilty were Gul's husband, a member of the Afghan army, and her brother-in-law, both of whom have been on the run since her case became public, Razi said. He said the men will be sentenced when they are captured.
Gul was present for the decision, telling the court that she wanted her in-laws "severely punished" for what they had put her through, Razi said. She has filed an appeal for a longer sentence with the help of the Women for Afghan Women, a group that works for women's rights in the country and has been caring for the teenager since her rescue.
"Of course we are not happy with the court's decision," said Huma Safi, program manager for the group.
Gul's case has prompted calls for more efforts to strengthen women's rights and end underage marriage. The legal marriage age in Afghanistan is 16, but the United Nations agency UN Women estimates that half of all girls are forced to marry under age 15.
There has been progress in women's rights since the 2001 U.S.-led campaign that toppled the Taliban regime, which banned girls' schools and prevented women from leaving the house unless accompanied by a male relative.
But ending abuse remains a huge challenge in Afghanistan's patriarchal society, where traditional practices include child marriage, giving girls away to settle debts or pay for their relatives' crimes and so-called honor killings in which women seen as disgracing their families are murdered by their relatives.
Gul, who had been married for seven months when she was found in late December, is still seeing doctors for some problems with her hands and fingers, but is doing better both physically and emotionally, Safi said. She said the girl is now very interested in studying, very different from when she first arrived.
She also has made great progress in her efforts to become comfortable around other people again, Safi said.
"She was very brave. When she was brought to us after her rescue, she was unable to speak. But this week she was able to get up and speak in front of an entire courtroom asking for her rights," Safi said.
"These are all positive signs and of course we are very proud of her."
Associated Press writer Chris Blake in Kabul contributed to this report.