Zainab was seven years old and lived near Lahore. The Government of Punjab is offering a reward of US$ 90,000 to anyone who can help police find the murderer. Yesterday two more children were killed in the province, triggering two parallel investigations. The entertainment industry and the sports world have denounced the "violated rights of minors".
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistan is in mourning following the death of Zainab, a seven-year-old girl who was raped, tortured, strangled, and thrown into a rubbish dump in Kasur, near Lahore.
Protests were held across the country against police inaction and in support of the little girl's family.
Celebrities from the entertainment industry and the world of sports spoke out against child abuse, a scourge that has long plagued the country.
The case has been front-page news in the country’s main newspapers with many editorials bemoaning how society forgot the rights of childhood.
Messages of solidarity for the parents of the slain child have also come from every quarter. Activists have demonstrated from north to south, from the streets of Lahore to the port of Karachi.
Yesterday evening, Kiran Naz, a journalist on Samaa TV, went on air with her daughter on her lap.
"Today I am not Kiran Naz. Today I am a mother. That's why I am sitting with my daughter," Ms Naz told millions of viewers before she read the news. “It is true when they say that the smallest coffins are the heaviest and entire Pakistan is burdened by the weight of her (Zainab’s) coffin.”
An editorial in The Dawn reported the killing of two other minors, which took place yesterday in Punjab. At the end it warns "The paedophiles that live amongst us should no longer be able to freely walk the streets.”
Under the eyes of the nation, the authorities are struggling to track down the culprit of the rape and murder.
All TV channels have broadcast the CCTV video showing Zainab walking on the edge of a dusty road, holding the hand of a man.
Today the Lahore High Court gave the police 36 hours to find the killer.
Describing his grief, Ameen Ansari, the girl’s father, told the BBC, "It's like the world has ended . . . I have no words."
The autopsy ordered by the judge found the little girl was repeatedly tortured during the days of her captivity.
The body shows several wounds on the face and elsewhere, from which the investigators have extracted traces of the murderer's DNA.
Ansari distanced himself from the violent protest that yesterday hit the city of Kasur, but claimed to understand the motivations of the protesters who complain about the inefficiency of the police.
For his part, the Punjab government created a joint investigation team and ordered the anti-terrorism department to launch a separate investigation.
Provincial authorities also offered a reward of 10 million rupees (US$ 90,000) for anyone who can help the police find the murderer.
Violence against children in Pakistan is widespread. According to some activists, it stems from a "culture of rape" that has its foundations in a male-dominated society and patriarchal order, which feeds on abuses in madrassas, and has no safety valves to curb frustration.
Official figures indicate that internationally Pakistan is ranked 11th in terms of child abuse and the third most dangerous place for women. Every year, about 2,500 cases of rape are reported; in some areas, up to 11 per day.
The National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan has condemned this "horrible incident", calling for a series of immediate measures to protect children.
(Shafique Khokhar contributed to this article)