KABUL, Afghanistan -- The family of a 7-year-old Afghan girl raped by two men has come forward to demand justice, defying social customs that view such attacks as a stain on the victim's honor. Two months after the rape, the girl is still in pain, rarely speaks, and looks no one in the eye.
Two brothers -- identified only as 18-year-old Ismat and 24-year-old Mohammad -- allegedly asked their teenage sister to lure the girl to their home in the Jaghuri district of Ghazni province and raped her until she lost consciousness, according to human rights officials and advocates handling the case.
The suspects were briefly held by police and then freed. Rights officials suspect they used personal contacts or bribes to secure their release.
The girl's family fled north to the capital, leaving home under cover of darkness.
"The district chief went to the uncle and said if they complain any further or go to Kabul, he's going to personally come and kill them," said Manizha Naderi, director of the advocacy organization Women for Afghan Women, which is helping the girl's family.
Jaghuri district chief Khada Dad Erfani denied any threat, and asserted that tribal elders and relatives of the girl and the brothers intervened, preferring to handle the case through tribal law instead of potentially embarrassing legal proceedings.
He raised no doubts about the brothers' guilt.
"They didn't want this to be followed up through the justice system of the government because they said this would give a very bad name to their area and the people living there," Erfani said.
The younger brother has been rearrested, but the elder is at large, he said.
Interviews with officials from Women for Afghan Women and the Afghan human rights commission produced similar accounts of how the girl was invited to the brothers' home.
The two suspects' 15-year-old sister knew the 7-year-old because they grazed sheep together. The sister invited the girl to eat cheese and then left her with Ismat and Mohammad, said Jamila Zafar, a social worker who is counseling the girl and her family.
After attacking the child, the brothers left her unconscious near the family home. When she came to, she went home and complained of stomach pains for a few days, Zafar said. The family then took her to the hospital, where doctors examined the girl and determined she had been raped.
The men were promptly arrested, but Naderi and Zafar said they believed bribes were paid to free them.
Rape is not uncommon in Afghanistan, but victims rarely come forward because a girl or woman losing her virginity out of wedlock is seen as disgracing her entire family.