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Pakistan

Pakistanis riot, join #MeToo movement after string of child rape and murders

Two people died as protests broke out across Pakistan last week due to public anger at what is seen as the authorities’ failure to investigate such cases

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 2:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 11:16pm

The rape and murders of a dozen children by a suspected serial killer have terrified parents in central Pakistan, and prompted soul-searching over how the country fails to protect its most vulnerable.

The killing of six-year-old Zainab Fatima Ameen became the tipping point last week when her body was found on a rubbish heap near her home in the city of Kasur.

Candlelight vigils were held across the country and the hashtag #JusticeForZainab trended on social media, with celebrities, opposition politicians and outraged web users demanding action.

But grief spilled over into anger in Kasur, a city already infamous for child abuse after a massive paedophilia ring was exposed in 2015.

Protests intensify as Pakistanis demand justice for murdered girl

Zainab, officials said, is the 12th child found raped and murdered in the city, within a two-kilometre radius in the last two years.

The discovery of her body sparked riots in Kasur, with thousands swarming police stations and setting fire to politicians’ homes, accusing authorities of inaction.

At least two demonstrators were killed after police opened fire on the crowds.

A spokesman for the government of Punjab province – where Kasur is located – said the suspect was likely “a lunatic with psychological disorders”.

“The perpetrator involved in the murder is a serial killer,” said Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan.

In six of the cases, investigators have found the same DNA, said Kasur district hospital chief Dr Nazir Ahmed.

Dr Fareed Khan said the victims showed similar injuries, including signs of “strangulation, burn marks, scarring and wrist cuts”.

Television stations have repeatedly broadcast chilling CCTV footage purportedly showing the young girl walking hand in hand with an unidentified male in what may have been her last moments.

Amid the outcry over the heinous crimes, three Pakistani celebrities revealed they were sexually abused as children, while using the #MeToo hashtag.

“I was 4 the first time I was abused sexually,” said actress Nadia Jamil, who now lives in England. “People tell me not to talk to respect my families honour. Is my families honour packed in my body? I am a proud, strong, loving survivor. No shame on me.”

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The city of Kasur is no stranger to such cases. In 2015, officials uncovered a huge paedophilia ring in the city. At least 280 children were sexually abused on camera by men who later blackmailed their families, threatening to leak the footage.

At the time, police conspicuously failed to act despite pleas from parents, only making arrests after clashes between relatives and authorities dragged the issue into the spotlight.

From January to June 2017, there were another 129 abuse cases recorded in Kasur – including rape and murder – according to Sahil, an aid group that works on child protection issues.

Following the latest string of murders, parents again appeared overwhelmed by their powerlessness.

“The district police chief told us if they can’t arrest the culprit then what can they do,” said Muhammad Ayub, whose eight-year-old niece was raped and killed in July last year.

Just one child is believed to have survived an attack – a six-year-old girl who has since spent months in intensive care, paralysed from the neck down and unable to speak after being raped, tortured and left for dead at a garbage dump in November.

“We have been forced to lock our kids inside our homes,” said resident Ghulam Fareed.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse