Inspector General of Police, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Sanaullah Abbasi said on Thursday that suspects in a rape and murder case of a minor in Charsadda have been arrested but refused to share further details as it would "affect the investigation".
The IGP's statement came hours after Charsadda police said that the two-and-a-half-year-old girl Zainab, whose body was found in Jabba Korona area in the limits of Daudzai police station of Peshawar a day earlier, appeared to have been assaulted and tortured before being killed.
Residents and police said the minor girl had gone missing on Tuesday evening in Sheikh Kallay Qilla area while playing with other children outside her house.
On Wednesday, the Prang police got information about the body of a girl lying in Jabba Korona area. The Prang and Daudzai police recovered the body and shifted it to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar for postmortem.
District Police Officer (DPO) Charsadda Mohammad Shoaib Khan said that police had initially registered a first information report (FIR) in the Prang police station, Charsadda, against unknown kidnappers on the complaint of the girl's father.
Section 302 (punishment for murder) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) was added to the FIR after the body was found, he said.
Khan said that initial investigation "suggests that the minor was assaulted before her murder", adding that there were torture marks on the girl's body. Police were waiting for the medical report, after which they would add other sections of the PPC, he said.
According to IGP Abbasi, the DHQ hospital had "verbally" confirmed to the police that the victim was sexually assaulted before being killed but a formal post-mortem examination report is yet to be issued.
Zainab's father said that the family did not have enmity with anyone. He demanded that the government catch the culprit so he could ask him what his daughter had done to him that he committed such a crime.
"Today it is my Zainab, tomorrow another Zainab could suffer this," he lamented.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan took notice of the incident and directed the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Dr Sanaullah Abbasi and other authorities to immediately arrest those involved.
"An example should be made out of them," he said and termed the incident "heart-rending".
The chief minister said the culprits would not be able to escape the reach of the law and the family would be provided complete justice.
IGP Abbasi also visited the victim's family and assured them that the police will soon arrest the culprits behind the heinous crime. Speaking to the media later, he said that the DPO was personally supervising the investigation of the case.
Meanwhile, the hashtags #JusticeforZainab and #AnotherZainab were used on Twitter by netizens to express outrage over unabated cases of abuse and murder of children in the country.
Photos of the two-year-old's body were circulated on social media with many users comparing the incident to the 2018 rape and murder of 8-year-old Zainab Amin in Kasur.
Zainab Amin had gone missing on Jan 4, 2018 and five days later, a police constable deputed to trace the girl recovered her body from a heap of trash near the Shahbaz Khan Road.
Police said the girl seemed to have been killed four or five days earlier.
Being the 12th such incident to occur within a 10-kilometre radius in Kasur in one year, Zainab's rape and murder had sparked outrage and protests across the country.
Editorial: Rampant child abuse
The heinous nature of the crime had seen immediate riots break out in Kasur — in which two people were killed — while #JusticeforZainab became a rallying cry for an end to violence against children.
More than two years after the Zainab Amin case, the National Assembly passed the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill, 2019 that seeks to expedite investigation and punishment for perpetrators of child abuse.
The Sindh police also launched an indigenously-developed mobile phone application — the Zainab Alert Mobile App — that would help develop database of crimes against children, including registration of cases, progress on their investigations and police performance in the area.
However, violence against children has continued with as many as 1,489 children — at least eight per day — sexually abused in the first half of 2020 in Pakistan.
According to Sahil, an organisation working for child protection, the major categories in the cases included abduction (331), rape (160), sodomy (233), gang-rape (69) and gang-sodomy (104). Thirteen boys and 12 girls were murdered after sexual abuse while four boys and one girl were murdered after gang-rape.