A court in western Kenya has sentenced three men to 15 years in prison for the 2013 gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl, after protests and longstanding international outrage over an initial light punishment that saw the convicts cut grass at their compound.

The young victim, who uses the pseudonym Liz to protect her identity, was sexually assaulted when she returned home from her grandfather's funeral in Busia county, then dumped in an open sewer and almost left for dead with severe injuries.

The court sentenced the perpetrators to 15 years in prison over the rape and seven years for causing grievous bodily harm - terms to be served concurrently.

Last year, the three men were forced to cut grass for a few weeks as a punishment for the crimes, shocking the country and prompting hundreds of Kenyans to march to the office of the head of police in Nairobi, the country's capital, to demand justice.

The prison term came after mounting international pressure - including an online petition that drew almost two million signatures - calling for justice for Liz.

Kimberly Brown - a Nairobi-based legal consultant for Equality Now, an NGO focusing on violence against women - released a statement on Monday saying that the sentencing would surely have "ripple effect across" a nation that rarely prosecutes rape offenders.

"Negative cultural attitudes towards women, as well as the fear and stigma associated with such crimes, make reporting of cases a daunting and often impossible task. An estimated 19 out of 20 rapes in Kenya are not reported and are therefore unpunished," the statemend added.

'First high profile case'

Brendan Wynne, of Equality Now, told Al Jazeera that although the Kenyan convicts were given a minimum sentence, it was the first "high profile" case after decades of sexual abuse without real accountablity.

"Sexual violence is a nationwide problem, but it is extremely high in western Kenya because of a total lack of implementing the law," he said.

However, Wynne cited the prison sentencing as a landmark development that signalled a major political move towards tackling the rape epidemic. 

"Kenyans were shocked at how quickly it happened. Police are now responding to complaints of sexual violence and the people are very encouraged by this," he said.

He noted that the director of prosecution in Nairobi has "urgently" stepped up efforts to deal with sexual abuse cases.

Source: Al Jazeera