Kasur: 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.
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.
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,” Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan said. In six of the cases, investigators have found the same DNA, Kasur district hospital chief Dr Nazir Ahmed said.
Another doctor said the bodies of the children bore similar injuries.
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.
Kasur is notorious for such heinous crimes. 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. 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 129 cases recorded in Kasur — including rape and murder — according to Sahil, an aid group that works on child protection issues. — AFP