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Tortured Afghan teen on attackers: 'The same should be done to them'

By Nick Paton Walsh and Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 11:59 AM EDT, Wed May 9, 2012
  • Married at 13, Sahar Gul says her husband raped her and various in-laws tortured her
  • Three of her attackers were recently sentenced for 10 years
  • "Ten years is not enough. They should have been given 50 years," she told CNN

Editor's note: CNN does not usually reveal the identities of women and girls who allege they have been raped, but this young woman wanted to be seen and tell her story.

(CNN) -- Last year, people around the world were outraged when they heard the story of Sahar Gul.

The Afghan teen was married off at 13. She said her husband, a member of the Afghan Army, raped her. Enraged because she didn't immediately get pregnant, her in-laws locked her in a basement for months, torturing her with hot pokers and ripping out her nails. Ultimately, she said, they wanted to force her into prostitution as punishment for failing her obligation as a woman.

"They told me to go to the basement because there were some guests coming to the house," she told CNN. "When I went there they came in and tied my hands and feet and pulled me upwards from above. They brought very little food for me.

"While going to the bathroom they used to beat me a lot. I was crying all this time," she said. "When they put electric shocks on my feet, I felt like I was going to die at that moment. I screamed and that's how our neighbors realized there was something happening. For one day and night I was unconscious, feeling dead."

Neighbors heard her cries and called authorities, who rescued the teenager in December.

Last weekend, Gul, now 14, trembled as she stood in court and listened to a Kabul judge hand down sentences to three of her attackers.

They each got 10 years. Her husband is still being sought.

They hurt my eyes and pulled out my nail and hair, and the same should be done to them
Sahar Gul

"Ten years is not enough. They should have been given 50 years," the teenager told CNN journalists, who visited her recently in an Afghanistan safe house where more than a dozen other women are being counseled after experiencing horrific treatment.

"They should be punished in the prison. They hurt my eyes and pulled out my nail and hair, and the same should be done to them. whatever they did to me, the same should be done to them," she said.

Gul has become an international symbol of the struggle for women's rights in Afghanistan. The outcome of the case against her relatives has inevitably posed a larger question.

More than a decade since Western forces invaded Afghanistan, have there been enough real and meaningful advances in women's rights there?

If so, will that progress erode after the United States pulls out of the country in 2014 or be diminished while the United States continues to pursue a negotiated peace with the Taliban?

Under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, women were banned from classrooms, politics or employment. Women who wanted to leave home had to be escorted by a male relative and were forced to wear burqas. Those who disobeyed were publicly beaten. In some parts of Afghanistan in the late 1990s, locals were encouraged to blacken the windows on their homes so women inside could not be seen.

Rights groups have cited advances since then. In 2004, girls were formally guaranteed a right to an education under the Afghan constitution.

Human Rights Watch reports that nearly 2 million Afghan girls are enrolled in school (though only a small number advance past elementary school, rights groups have reported).

Literacy rates are up for girls between 12 and 16, according to a 2011 Oxfam report.

Across Afghanistan, infant mortality rates have dropped and life expectancy has risen, according to Unicef.

Women who once had to quit their jobs have gone back to work as doctors, lawyers and police officers, Oxfam said.

I want to go to school and study, to become a doctor or a prosecutor, so I can give punishment by myself to these sort of people
Sahar Gul

But stories of honor killings, poisoned wells at girls schools and disfigurements persist.

President Hamid Karzai enacted the 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women law, intended to help reduce violence against women committed through practices deemed traditional, such as so-called honor killings.

But the United Nations reported in June 2011 that the violence against women law was being enforced in only 10 of 34 provinces.

Also, from March 2010 to a year later, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission registered 2,299 cases of violence against women that, according to the law, would be considered crimes.

Gul said she not only has to think about the trauma she's endured, but also she is still technically married to her attacker, and she fears it may not be safe to carry on living in Afghanistan.

"I think the punishment given by the court to these people worries me. The government is trying its best to find [my husband, convicted but on the run]," she said. "But if tomorrow he finds me, it's possible he could kill me.

"I want to go abroad," she continued. "If I sit here, they will find me. I want to go to school and study, to become a doctor or a prosecutor, so I can give punishment by myself to these sort of people. "

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