Three men doused a teenage girl in acid at her home in northern Afghanistan this week to prevent her marrying. The vicious attack is believed to have been ordered by an ageing warlord who wanted to marry the girl himself but who was rejected by her family.
"The girl was supposed to have been married on Friday," the provincial head of women's affairs, Nadira Geya, said. "That's why they carried out the attack. They wanted to prevent the wedding. They threw acid into the girl's face so that no one else would marry her."
Early on Tuesday morning, the three gunmen broke into the family home in the Bolakawal area of Kunduz city. One man beat up the girl's parents with a club; 17-year-old Mumtaz and her two sisters, aged 14 and eight, were guarded by two other men and told not to make a sound while their parents were beaten. It is unclear whether they were sexually abused.
The men then poured acid on the mother's hands and then set to work on the girls, spraying all three girls liberally with corrosive chemical. The five family members remain in hospital and Mumtaz is in critical condition, Ms Geya said. "The 17-year-old was badly hurt," she said. "They threw acid on her face, on her hands, her body and her feet. Her body is 40 per cent burns. She is in a bad condition in hospital."
She added that the 14-year-old's face is completely burnt and the youngest child's face is half-burnt. The family also has a son, but he was not at the house during the attack and is unharmed.
The Afghan authorities are treating the attack with the utmost "seriousness" and have already arrested one suspect, the Ministry of Interior said.
The man behind the attack is thought to be a local warlord who asked to marry the girl. Mumtaz's mother declined his proposal saying he was an old man of bad character. His involvement in the attack is being investigated. The Ministry of Interior would not say if it was he who had been arrested. "We have arrested one person so far and we have identified two other suspects," Minister spokesman Sediq Sediqi said.
He added that when all three suspects have been arrested they will be brought to Kabul to face justice. "If convicted, they will face the highest possible sentence," Mr Sediqi said, saying they could spend more than 26 years in prison for the crime.
The assault demonstrates the perils women and girls in Afghanistan face on a regular basis. Acid is frequently thrown at girls in vengeful and disfiguring attacks. The most notorious acid attack was three years ago in Kandahar when two men on a motorbike used water pistols to squirt acid the in the faces of 15 girls as they walked to school.
The details of the latest case emerged as the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai pardoned a rape victim, named only as Gulnaz, on condition that she marry her attacker. In a move that will cause outcry among human rights groups, the Afghan leader said that the victim, who was jailed as an adulterer, would be pardoned when the marriage was confirmed. Gulnaz was jailed with her baby daughter after she became pregnant after the assault.
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission logged 1,026 cases of violence against women in the second quarter of 2011 compared with 2,700 cases for the whole of 2010.
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