By Wardah Faiz, LLB Law
Horror struck Pakistan on 9th January 2018 as eight year old girl Zainab Ansari was found dead in a rubbish pit after being raped. The incident happened while Zainab’s parents were in Saudi Arabia performing Umrah (a minor Islamic pilgramage). During this time Zainab was under the care of her uncle. When Zainab went missing on 4th January at 7PM while she was on her way to her Quran class. Her family began searching for her and her uncle, Muhammad Adnan, lodged a complaint with the Qasur District Police Office at 9:30 PM.
Zainab’s body was found from a trash pile on 9th January on Shahbaz Khan Road, while her autopsy confirmed that she had been sodomized and strangled to death. The autopsy also showed that she had been raped before being killed, confirmed by Dr Qurutulain Atique, the medical officer who carried out the examination. There were torture marks on her face and Zainab’s tongue was crushed between her teeth, she said. The report by Dr Atique suggests that when the autopsy was performed, she had been deceased for two or three days already. CCTV footage uncovered by Zainab’s family shows that Zainab was led by the hand by an unknown bearded man in white clothing, assumed to be her attacker, on Peerowala Road in Kasur.
On 19th February, police took two people into custody in connection with the murder; an important development to the case. Furthermore, Muhammad Idrees, the regional police officer of Multan and head of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the case, submitted to the court a report on the investigations. He said that Zainab’s case is the latest in eight similar incidents of assault and murder since 2005. The government was also seemingly swift in condemning the act. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said “deeply pained about brutal murder of an 8-year old in a child molestation case. Those societies that cannot protect its children are eternally condemned. Not going to rest until the penetrators of this dastardly act are apprehended and given severest possible punishment under the law.” He also offered a 10 million rupee reward for anyone who helped find the killers (over $90,000).
The response of the family is seemingly positive towards government support. “The JIT is doing satisfactory work,” the family members claimed. “We pray that the team is successful [in its probe]” they added. However, it is evident that no major headway has been made since the incident has occurred, despite the Counter-Terrorism Department, Intelligence Bureau, Special Branch and Punjab Forensic Science Agency each being tasked with investigating the case. The murder case of Zainab can be seen as a tipping point for a public outcry; public anger erupted on the streets of Kasur and elsewhere in the country in response to the failure of the law enforcement agencies to promptly take action and capture the culprits. Angered local people protesting claim that authorities of Punjab province have done little to keep the children of the country safe after a series of similar killings. Two people also died in the protests that took place.
Many celebrities also came forward to voice their anguish over the matter. Famed actor Nadia Jamil expressed her despair over the matter and called for justice while opening up about her own experience being sexually abused. Jamil confessed on Twitter “I was four the first time I was sexually abused.” She comments on how the only way to stop this is education; “the cure is literacy, poverty alleviation and an empathic education that counters all patriarchal, misogynistic discourse on women, women’s bodies and male entitlement to sexual gratification on power. Plus, awareness and protection workshops for kids, schools, parents.” The event of Zainab’s murder has also sparked an outcry on an international level, with many celebrities openly talking about child sexual abuse in the south Asian region. In response to Zainab’s case, the government of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, announced plans to introduce ‘Child Abuse Awareness’ in its curriculum. According to Sahil, a non-government organization working on the problem of child sexual assaults, 1,764 cases of child abuse were reported in the first half of 2017 alone, and in at least 62 of the cases, the children were murdered after the sexual abuse.