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A protest erupted in Faisalabad's Jaranwala tehsil on Monday after a minor girl was found murdered — allegedly after being sexually assaulted — in a field a day earlier.

A large number of civil society activists, area residents and relatives of the victim took part in the demonstration and forcibly closed shops in Jaranwala. Many lawyers boycotted court proceedings to take part in the protest.

Police were called in to control the situation after the protesters resorted to vandalism. They raised slogans against the police and charged at a bus of Punjab police with sticks.

The funeral prayers of the 7-year-old girl were attended by hundreds of residents at Kachery Chowk.

According to the girl's father, his daughter had left the house at around 2pm on April 1 [Sunday]. When she did not return after an hour, the father started looking for her with the help of relatives and neighbours.

After an hours-long search, the girl's body was found in an agricultural field near Hafiz Garden.

He said the girl had bruises on several parts of her body. She was found without her clothes and had a dupatta (scarf) around her neck which was allegedly used to strangle her.

A first information report (FIR) of the girl's murder was registered against unknown suspects under Sections 302 (premeditated murder), 363 (punishment for kidnapping) and 376 (punishment for rape) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) on the complaint of her father. The father suspected that his daughter was sexually assaulted before being strangled to death.

Police are awaiting the report of a postmortem examination performed on the child, which will determine whether she was subjected to rape or not.

Several incidents and complaints of sexual assault have surfaced in Faisalabad over the last couple of weeks.

The Punjab chief minister has formed a committee to investigate the reported alleged rape cases by paedophiles in Jaranwala. The committee has been tasked to expose the gangsters involved in the scandal, figure out the number of children and get other details including what action was taken by police when the first case was reported.

On Saturday, people from different walks of life including teachers, students and civil society had staged separate protest demonstrations on the second consecutive day against what they said police failure to arrest the killer(s) of a female student of Government College University Faisalabad.

The student of MA English was abducted a week earlier and her body was recovered from a canal. According to doctors, she was subjected to rape and violence before being strangled to death.

Since the beginning of 2018, there has been a marked upsurge in the reporting of sexual abuse cases across Pakistan. The brutal rape and murder of Zainab Ansari in Kasur earlier this year in particular shocked the entire country, with #JusticeforZainab becoming the rallying cry in a nationwide drive to end violence against children.