Islamabad: The grief and anger over rape and murder of and murder of an eight-year-old girl gripped Pakistan especially Kasur where violent protests continued on Thursday.
The girl’s murder has appalled Pakistanis and galvanised them to demand swift justice and exemplary punishment for the culprit.
Four days after she went missing, Zainab Ansari’s body was found in a dumpster some hundred metres away from her residence, on Tuesday. The post-mortem report suggests that the minor may have been raped before she was strangled to death.
The tragedy has enraged Pakistanis as Zainab’s murder is the 12th such case to occur within a two-kilometre radius of the city since 2017.
Hundreds of protesters threw stones at government buildings in Kasur for a second day on Thursday, amid growing outrage over the killing.
The demonstrators hurled projectiles at a hospital, attacked the home of at least one local politician, and complained of police inaction, a day after two protesters were killed when the rallies turned violent.
The outrage has spilled over in Kasur after the body of a child was found in a garbage heap Tuesday, where she is believed to have been dumped after being raped and murdered.
“Up to 1,000 protesters are in the streets,” Kasur police spokesman Mohammad Sajid said.
“They have thrown stones on the buildings of the government hospital, police and deputy commissioner’s office ... Security is deployed and trying to control the situation.”
The demonstrators had accused police of failing to act over the child murders.
Sajid said that up to 20 suspects had been apprehended “but the investigators have been unable to find any clue so far”.
“Police are not cooperating with us,” Ghulam Rasul, an uncle of Zainab, told AFP.
“We want justice. We want the culprit to be brought in front of us. We don’t want an innocent to be presented as the culprit and killed just to wash this case.”
Zainab’s killing has sparked a social media deluge, with politicians, celebrities, cricketers and average Pakistanis demanding #JusticeForZainab.
On Wednesday at least two protesters were killed when police fired into the crowd of demonstrators as they tried to storm a government building in Kasur, a senior police official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Anger at police has been fuelled by Kasur’s infamy as the site of what has been dubbed Pakistan’s largest child abuse scandal.
The 2015 scandal saw allegations that at least 280 children were filmed being sexually abused by a gang of 25 men who blackmailed their parents by threatening to leak the videos.
It came to light after parents of the victims clashed with police in Kasur during a protest blasting authorities for failing to prosecute the case.
The Punjab government has announced a reward of 10 million rupees ($90,000, Dh330,300) for information leading to the killer’s capture, as well as compensation packages for the protesters killed on Wednesday.
The killing of Zainab is not a one-off incident. As many as 11 cases of sexual abuse of children are reported from across Pakistan every day, according to data collected by non-governmental organisation, Sahil which works on child protection.
On Thursday, prayers, protests and candle-light vigils were held all across Pakistan to show support for Zainab’s parents. The Islamabad High Court Bar Association, Punjab Bar Council and lawyers associations in other cities observed “Black Day” over the incident.
In a TV interview Zainab’s parents claimed that police did not cooperate in finding their child after she went missing. “If the police would have acted immediately, the culprit would have been caught,” said Zainab’s father, Ameen Ansari. Ansari said that he did not expect any justice from the provincial government and appealed to the army chief to bring culprit to the justice.
In a related move, the Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Interior, Senator Rehman Malik has asked the Ministries of Interior and Law to draft proposals for amendments in the existing law to enhance the punishment for those found involved in cases of child abuse and sexual assault.
In a letter written to the ministries, Malik said that laws should be amended to award stringent punishment like death sentence to those involved in such heinous crimes. He said the proposals should be presented during the next meeting of the standing committee to be held on January 22.
Reasons behind high number of child abuse cases in Pakistan
1. Negligence of police and law enforcement agencies
Child abuse cases are widespread in Pakistan and experts suggest that the justice system needs to take cases of rape, murder and especially child abuse more seriously.
“Most cases remain unresolved, and even when culprits are arrested police and judiciary are unable to convincingly punish them. Failure of Pakistan’s ‘criminal justice system’ lies at the root of the public anger against Zainab’s rape and murder” said senior analyst Dr Moeed Pirzada.
2. Lack of sexual abuse education for children at home and schools.
Sexual abuse education especially at primary schools and homes may help children report offenders, according to experts. “Sexual abuse education must be made compulsory by law. We must educate children about good/bad touch, encourage them to report abuse rather than fear or be shamed. Let Zainab, in death, be a catalyst for binning our cultural taboos and move forward to protect our children” remarked San Qayyum, an activist.
3. Child sex abuse is a taboo for parents
It is extremely rare for children or families of the abused to disclose what has happened to them until they feel they are safely within a ‘climate of disclosure’. “We do not just to demand justice but open conversation on sexual abuse and empower survivors (who have suffered sexual assault) to talk about it,” said activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir.
4. Refusal by witnesses to appear before court of law
In 2017, a total of 129 cases of child assault were reported from Kasur alone. Of them, 34 were abductions, 23 were rapes, 19 sodomy, 17 attempted rapes, six abduction and rapes, and four of gang-rapes. But why so many cases of child abuse are occurring in Kasur? Because no one was arrested punished. In most cases, the culprits escaped the punishment because of lack of evidence. “If the victim will get justice and accused get punished, no such cases will be reported at all,” says Mumtaz Gohar, programme officer at Sahil.
5. Parent’s failure to be friendly with children
In rural areas of Pakistan, there is a culture of punishing children to teach manners which compels some children to run away from home. “We request parents to be friends with their children and treat them kindly as there are many runaway children at our child centres who do not want to return home” said Mrs Shaheen Burney of the charity trust, Ansar Burney Trust where many missing, abused and runaway children are offered shelter.
6. Failure of implementation of laws
Government’s failure in implementing laws have given rise to violence against children, according to the National Commission for Human Rights report on Kasur child sexual abuse scandal 2015. “The culprits should be tried in the military court. They should be given exemplary punishment and executed,” said Dr Ayesha Mehnaz, adding that there should be strict laws against child sexual abuse.
7. Lack of forensic evidences and police training
According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Kasur Child Abuse Case Fact Finding Report 2015, families of the victims and local social activists believe that “negligence and collusion of the police” is one of major reasons behind abuse. The team observed the absence of any effective investigation, noting that “No witnesses had been examined. No evidence had been collected from the reported sites of abuse. Even the objectionable videos that were circulating in the village had not been confiscated.” Besides, absence of the forensic labs has led to a number of cases being dropped from court because of the lack of evidence to ascertain the actual culprits.
8. Influence of politicians
The HRCP — AGHS Legal Aid Committee fact-finding mission into Kasur child abuse 2015 also reported “complaint of several people that local politicians were pressurising the police to downplay the incident.” The report said: “The team found the role of political parties very distributing and it is also disturbed at the victim families’ lack of interest in the children’s psychological rehabilitation.”