As her relatives tell it, Zainab's horrifying last few hours unfolded like this: The child had been staying with her aunt while her parents traveled to Saudi Arabia to perform the umrah pilgrimage. On Thursday, relatives say, she left home for a nearby Koran recital. She never returned.
On Tuesday, police found her body in a dumpster about a mile from her home in Kasur, a city in Punjab province. According to early autopsy reports, Zainab had been raped multiple times and strangled four or five days earlier.
CCTV footage purporting to show Zainab walking hand-in-hand with a stranger has been circulating online and publicized by several Pakistani news outlets.
Police say that they are investigating the death and that charges should follow soon. Officials say that DNA was recovered from Zainab's body and that early evidence suggests the perpetrator was a family acquaintance. But lawmakers also seemed to suggest that Zainab's family deserved some blame for what happened to her.
“A child's safety is its parents' responsibility,” Rana Sanaullah, the law minister of Punjab, told the newspaper Dawn. Zainab's father, however, has pointed the finger at police. “If the police had acted immediately, the culprit would have been caught,” he told reporters.
The sexual abuse of children has been a recurring issue in Kasur. At least 12 children have been sexually assaulted and killed in the past two years. Last month, a 9-year-old girl went missing from the city center near her home. She escaped her captor, but reports say she remains “severely traumatized.”
Police say at least five of the killings can be linked to one person, who is the focus of a manhunt involving hundreds of law enforcement officials. Police say at least 90 potential suspects have had their DNA tested.
In 2015, police busted a gang running a child sex ring. The gang had allegedly abducted and assaulted at least 280 children since 2009. The families of the abducted children were often blackmailed, and video clips and images of the assaults were sold online.
Zainab's case, though, seems to have hit a nerve, prompting attention from politicians, athletes and performers. On Wednesday, riots erupted over alleged inaction by authorities. At least two people were fatally shot when protesters tried to storm a police station to demand justice, according to Dawn. Shop owners in the city shut their doors on Wednesday in solidarity with Zainab's family.
In Pakistan, rape and violence against women are endemic. Sometimes, they're even sanctioned by traditional authorities. In Pakistan, tribal councils have come under fire for ordering the rape of women whose relatives commit crimes. In July, a 12-year-old girl was raped by a teenager in a field. Two days later, the perpetrator's 16-year-old sister was sexually assaulted as punishment. Although it's hard to know how often this happens, experts estimate that hundreds of women suffer this fate each year.