The Supreme Court on Friday took suo motu notice of the rape and murder of a four-year-old girl found dead in a sugarcane field in Mardan on January 14.

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar asked the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Inspector-General of Police to submit a report on the case within 24 hours.

The court issued its orders soon after the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) concluded that the girl was raped before being murdered.

The toddler was playing outside her house in Mardan when she was picked up by an unidentified assailant on January 13, District Nazim Himayatullah Mayar had told Dawn earlier. A day later, she was found dead in a sugarcane field near her house.

Local authorities and doctors had expressed suspicion that the toddler was assaulted before she was strangled to death.

Director General PFSA Dr Mohammad Ashraf Tahir said that the lab had carried out tests on samples of DNA taken from the crime scene, and confirmed that the minor girl had been raped.

The findings corroborate those in the autopsy report. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police chief Salahuddin Mehsud had earlier said police were awaiting the PFSA forensic report as the medico-legal report had left certain things unclear.

Cases of sexual assault against minors have come under greater scrutiny in the country following the rape and murder of six-year-old Zainab in Kasur, whose body was recovered from a trash heap in the city on January 9.

The news shocked the entire country with #JusticeforZainab becoming a rallying cry for catching and punishing perpetrators of such heinous crimes.