Thousands of protesters in Pakistan have taken to the streets in all four provinces to protest the brutal rape and murder of Zainab Amin from the central town of Kasur, Punjab. From social media posts to public demonstrations, Pakistanis are demanding that the country's law enforcement agencies and judicial system take immediate action.
The seven-year-old was reported missing by her uncle on Thursday, according to the police. Zainab was scheduled to attend her evening Quran-reading class with her cousin at their aunt's house. (In Pakistan, many Muslim children take daily Quran reading and learning classes under the guidance of a "qaari" or official reciter.) After not showing up for a while, Zainab's uncle reported this his niece had gone missing.
On Wednesday, the young girl's body was found in a landfill. CCTV footage revealed a disturbing clip of Zainab being led down a narrow street by a male stranger. So far, the suspect has not been arrested but the local police informed Al Jazeera on Thursday that 227 leads had been investigated. NPR reported that her body was found in a garbage pile, and that she was raped and strangled to death.
After Zainab's death was officially confirmed by police authorities, Pakistanis took to the streets in protest, calling for justice for the young girl and her family. Zainab's father, Amin Ansari, spoke with the national newspaper Express Tribune and demanded justice for his daughter. He described Zainab as a bright and sweet child. "Zainab was a loving child who took keen interest in religion. She had learned the five Islamic Kalemas (Islamic verses) by heart," he said.
Two people have been killed amid the protests, according to the local authorities, and one person reportedly injured. But the momentum in demanding justice for young Zainab seems to be higher than ever. Jibran Nasir, a prominent activist in the country, was seen in a widely circulated video demanding justice for her.
Malala Yousafzai also tweeted on Wednesday:
Heartbroken to hear about Zainab - a seven-year-old child abused and brutally killed in Kasur, Pakistan. This has to stop. [The government of Pakistan] and the concerned authorities must take action. #JusticeForZainab
And there may be some hope for local demonstrators demanding justice for Zainab yet. On Thursday, Pakistan's supreme court independently decided to take up the case under suo moto notice of Chief Justice Saqib Nisar. In case you didn't know, suo moto is a legal action taken by a higher level court when it takes notice of a case without any formal request. In other words, the court takes action on its own accord.
The country's chief of army staff, Qamar Javed Bajwa, also said that the army would offer "immediate" civil assistance to further Zainab's case. On Wednesday, Asif Ghafoor, spokesperson for the Pakistani armed forces, tweeted that the country's army denounced the "cold blooded murder of innocent Zainab." Bajwa also said that the army would extend full support to the civilian government in capturing Zainab's killer(s).
There's a lot to be done to ensure more safety for girls and boys in the country. Part of it is teaching children their rights and how to respond to danger, as well as more thorough sex education. Ayesha Ijaz, the program manager at the Pakistani sex education organization, Aahung, told Al Jazeera that such education is more than critical.
"We call it life skills education. Right-wing hardliners like to call it sex education, but it's not," Ijaz said. "This is not a Western agenda, this is for the Pakistani environment by giving skills and education."
As the protests go on in Pakistan, combined educational and governmental efforts could yield a brighter and safer future for children. At least, that's what many Pakistanis hope to see.