Judging by the massive public outrage, spontaneous, emotional protests and strong statements made by various politicians and public personalities, it seems like Pakistan is in the throes of a moment that could have consequences as far-reaching as the 2012 Delhi gang-rape did in India.
A young girl from Kasur, Pakistan, named Zainab, reportedly between the age of six and eight, was reported missing last week by the relatives she was staying with while her parents visited Mecca. On Tuesday, her body was found atop a rubbish heap, and an autopsy has shown that she was tortured and raped whilst held captive before being murdered. CCTV footage shows an unnamed man leading her away by the hand, but no arrests have been made in this case so far.
Pakistan does not have laws similar to India protecting the identity of rape victims in the media, which is also why her full name, and pictures of her face are out in the public domain.
This is actually the 12th such case coming out of the same 2-mile radius in Kasur over just this year. Kasur has seen over 700 cases of child rape since 2015, and was in the news before that because of a child abuse ring that captured, abused and videotaped scores of children between 2009 and 2015. It seems that this horrifying case has finally opened the floodgates to long-held anger and despair at the situation in Kasur, and Pakistan at large.
Soon after Zainab’s body was found on Tuesday, protestors took to the streets, particularly in Kasur. Angry citizens flocked to areas near the hospital she was held in, staging protests around her body, and also attempted to storm into the deputy commissioner’s office. The protests turned violent when policemen fired straight into the crowd of protestors, killing two, before beginning to shoot into the air. A curfew has been imposed in the area, three officials who shot at the demonstrators have been arrested, and Kasur’s police chief has been sacked for mishandling the case.
The hashtag #JusticeForZainab has been sweeping Pakistani social media over the last few days, with people taking to social media to express their sorrow, outrage, horror, and demands for meaningful and tangible methods to address the rampant problem of child sex abuse in Pakistan. Personalities like Malala Yousafzai, Mohammed Shafiq and Mahira Khan have also tweeted publicly about the incident, calling for more public discussion on child sexual harassment. One newsreader, Kiran Naz, even made a unique statement during her news broadcast yesterday, bringing her young daughter to work and completing the show with the child seated on her lap. She said that the whole of Pakistan felt the burden of what happened to Zainab, and that she was adopting this form of protest being a mother herself.
It’s clear that this incident has tapped into a well of justified anger and outrage, and the immediate arrests and firing of various officials make it clear that those in power are aware that they need to respond to it quickly. Given that public discussions are already turning to all the reforms that need to be made to address the problem of child sexual abuse in Pakistan, if this anger and momentum is harnessed and kept going, it could spell real change for Pakistan.