Afghan unit to hunt abused bride Sahar Gul's husband

Sahar Gul The 15-year-old says her hair and nails were pulled out by her mother-in-law

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A special 10-man police unit has been set up to hunt for the husband and others behind the torture of a 15-year-old Afghan bride, officials say.

Sahar Gul was left starving in a basement by her new husband and his family. The case came to light last month when police rescued the teenager.

Although some family members have been arrested, her husband is at large.

Correspondents say there is pressure on the government to act decisively after a series of high-profile abuse cases.

"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's Bilal Sarwary in Kabul.

The interior ministry revealed that the unit was set up very recently under the supervision of the Baghlan police force, the province where the family lived.

Police say that Sahar Gul had had her nails and clumps of hair pulled out. In addition they say she had chunks of flesh cut out with pliers.

Health officials told the BBC that her treatment is going well inside Afghanistan, but if necessary she could be taken to India for further medical care.

Windowless room

Sahar Gul was married to a 30-year-old man around seven months ago, when she was just 14 years old. Her parents contacted police after not being able to see her for several months.

She was rescued from a dark, windowless room in her in-laws' house, according to Baghlan police official Jawid Basharat.

The authorities in northern Baghlan province said they were aware of reports that the girl was tortured after she refused to be forced into prostitution, but could not confirm that was the case.

Rahima Zarifi, director of the Women's Affairs Department in Baghlan, said Sahar had been severely tortured, both physically and mentally, and that the psychological scars were likely to endure.

The police have managed to arrest Sahar's mother-in-law, sister-in-law and father-in-law, but her husband had already fled.

Correspondents say that women in many parts of Afghanistan continue to suffer domestic abuse, often at the hands of their own family or in-laws.

Human rights activists worry that the plight of many women here, especially in rural areas, is being sidelined as the international community focuses on its military drawdown, and puts less emphasis and less pressure on the Afghan authorities over human rights.

In the second quarter of this year alone, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission registered 1,026 cases of violence against women, compared with a total last year of 2,700.

Under Afghan law, the earliest age of marriage for girls is 16. However, almost half of Afghan women are married when they are younger.

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