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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 27 February 2021

Toddler's kidnap and murder sparks fresh outcry in Pakistan

Zainab's body was found a day after she went missing, evoking memories of the killing of another girl of the same name in 2018

Women protest in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on September 11, 2020 over a gang rape on a deserted highway in Punjab province a few days earlier. AP Photo
Women protest in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on September 11, 2020 over a gang rape on a deserted highway in Punjab province a few days earlier. AP Photo

The kidnap and murder of a young girl have caused outcry in Pakistan and drawn parallels with a similar notorious murder two years ago.

The body of a toddler called Zainab was found in the city of Peshawar a day after the two-and-a-half-year-old had gone missing while playing with friends outside her home in the nearby town of Charsadda, in the country's north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Police said the body of the girl from bore knife wounds, as well as signs of sexual assault and torture.

"Today it is my Zainab, tomorrow another Zainab could suffer this," her father told reporters.

The crime came amid widespread unease in Pakistan about the extent of violent crime and sexual assault.

Zainab's murder reawakened memories of another girl, called Zainab Ansari, whose 2018 kidnap and murder at the hands of a serial killer caused nationwide outrage and led to riots over police failures to stop the culprit or save the girl.

Within hours of the latest Zainab's discovery, slogans calling for justice and the public hanging of rapists were widespread on the country's social media platforms.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister, Mahmood Khan, called the incident “heart-rending” and said an example should be made of the culprits. Reports of child kidnappings, assault and murder are common in Pakistan and police are often accused of failing to investigate cases if the victims are poor.

Sahil, a child protection group, said it recorded more than 3,800 child abuse cases in Pakistan, including 92 murders, in 2018.

The kidnap and murder of Zainab Ansari, 6, in early January that year galvanised public anger. Her body was found on a rubbish heap five days after her disappearance and it was later disclosed there had been a string of child killings in the same city of Kasur, in Punjab province.

Police were accused of not taking action for days after her disappearance and the death triggered angry protests and clashes in which two people died.

There were nationwide protests last month after a woman was raped in front of her children after her car broke down at night on a motorway outside Lahore. A senior police officer caused further anger by appearing to blame the victim for driving late at night without her husband's permission.

The assault prompted widespread calls for the return of public hangings for rapists, while Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was in favour of chemical castration.

Updated: October 10, 2020 09:22 PM

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