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Chief Justice (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar on Thursday took suo motu notice of a recent incident in Chichawatni tehsil of Sahiwal where an eight-year-old girl was allegedly burnt alive.

A press release issued by the Supreme Court said the CJP has demanded a report of the incident from Punjab's Inspector General of Police Arif Nawaz within 24 hours.

According to her family, the victim had left her home to buy sweets on Sunday. After she did not return for a while, her family and neighbours started searching for her and soon found her in a street, unconscious and covered in burns. She was taken to Tehsil Headquarters (THQ) Hospital, from where she was referred to Jinnah Hospital in Lahore due to her critical condition.

According to doctors, she had received 70 to 80 per cent burns. The girl died during treatment late on Monday night.

The alleged rape and murder of the girl had sparked outrage in the area and a full strike was observed on the day of her funeral.

Early reports emerging from the area had claimed that the girl was sexually assaulted before being set on fire. However, Sahiwal District Police Officer (DPO) Atif Ikram told Dawn that initial investigation suggested she was neither raped nor murdered.

Rejecting the reports that the girl was found in a deserted house, he said the fireworks the girl bought from the area shop went off and the girl’s clothes caught fire. Some women in the area tried to put out the fire and took the girl to their house, he claimed. They later handed her to her family.

The DPO also said that the victim was mentally unstable.

He said that on the complaint of the victim’s family, the police had registered a case against unknown persons under Section 302 (premeditated murder) of the Pakistan Penal Code, whereas rape charges will be added after receiving the forensic report. He vowed to arrest the culprits as soon as possible.

City police station Station House Officer Qazi Basit said the police were investigating whether the girl was burnt by someone or the fireworks she was carrying caught fire.

Despite the officials' denial that the girl had been murdered or raped, police had detained 10 people for questioning, according to sources.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had also taken notice of the murder and formed an investigation team comprising four members to probe the case. The team arrived in Chichawatni's city police station on the directives of Sheikhupura Regional Police Officer Zulfiqar Hameed on Thursday to investigate the incident, DawnNews TV reported.

The proceedings of the case are being kept tightly under wraps and officials are refusing to divulge any information to reporters.

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.

An anti-terrorism court had sentenced convict Imran Ali to death on four counts in the Zainab murder case, while the Lahore High Court had dismissed his appeal against the trial court's verdict.


Additional reporting by Mian Ramzan from Sahiwal.