Karachi, Pakistan – Scores of demonstrators continued to protest the rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl in the central Pakistani town of Kasur, while four security personnel who opened fire on an earlier demonstration were taken into custody.
Protesters blocked the main roads into the city, about 50km south of the eastern city of Lahore, using tractors and large cement blocks, and shouted slogans against the government on Thursday.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
They called for “justice for Zainab”, the name of the child whose body was found in a rubbish dump on Wednesday after being missing for four days. Closed-circuit television footage showed her being led down a street near her home by an unidentified man.
On Thursday, police told Al Jazeera they were still investigating leads, after interrogating 227 people in connection with the case.
The rape and murder of Zainab Ansari was the 12th such case in Kasur district in the last year, according to local media reports.
In the first half of 2017, at least 1,764 cases of child abuse were reported across Pakistan, according to the non-profit Sahil child protection organisation. At least 65 percent of those occurred in Punjab province, where Kasur is situated.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Zainab’s father, Malik Amin Ansari, said he had seen many political leaders visit him as the case of his child’s murder became more prominent, but that not enough was being done to prevent such crimes from occurring.
“Children are not coming out of their homes, how do we go to work and protect our children on the streets to go to school? Swift justice has to prevail, this kind of act cannot be left unresolved. We need all our girls and all children safe,” he said.
“Ministers and important people are coming, but nothing was done in the days Zainab was missing.”
‘Innocent bystander’ killed
On Wednesday, two men were killed when police opened fire on a massive protest against Zainab’s killing.
Kashif Imran, the brother of a deceased protester, told Al Jazeera his brother was an innocent bystander.
“He told us he was going out to see if the store was open, and then went along with the procession on the road where the police opened fire,” said Imran.
The provincial government on Thursday said four security personnel responsible for the shooting had been taken into custody and were being interrogated.
The provincial police chief, meanwhile, submitted a report to the Supreme Court on Thursday, defending his department’s investigation into the case.
In 2015, more than 200 children were targeted by a criminal gang operating a paedophilia ring in the village of Hussain Khanwala, about 10km south of Kasur.
The children were sexually exploited and recorded on video, with footage being sold and used to blackmail their families, according to a fact-finding report by the Human Rights Commission Pakistan.
Some children who were victims of the ring have recently spoken to local media of their trauma, and the social alienation they have felt since they were identified as sexual abuse victims.
Sajjad Bhatti, senior coordinator with Sahil’s Lahore office, told Al Jazeera the organisation was providing legal aid and psychological counselling to the victims.
“The [earlier] case wasn’t tackled properly, investigations were not transparent and it has scared parents,” he said. “The community cannot heal when the problem has not been uprooted.”
Need for education
The government, however, said it is trying its best to amend structures and legislation to ensure such crimes are dealt with more efficiently.
“Legislative changes in relevant laws pertaining to protection of children are under process of being implemented,” said Salman Sufi, director-general of the Special Reforms Unit, speaking on behalf of the provincial chief minister.
“Moreover, interventions are being devised for public-based missing child reporting systems. Campaigns are to be conducted in schools, colleges and public spaces to create awareness for prevention of child abuse.”
Rights groups, however, say much more needs to be done.
“One in five children in Pakistan is abused,” said Ayesha Ijaz, programme manager at Aahung, which deals with such cases. “There is immense under-reporting, it’s not discussed in schools or at homes. It’s a taboo subject.”
Often, Ijaz said, those with conservative social values label Aahung’s child education initiatives to be somehow “Westernising” children.
“We encourage children to speak up and are involved with parents and teachers. That’s the education reform we are following,” she said.
“We call it life skills education. Right-wing hardliners like to call it sex education, but it’s not. This is not a Western agenda, this is for the Pakistani environment by giving skills and education.”