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Pakistani Authorities Arrest Suspect In Rape And Murder Of Young Girl


We're going to turn now to Pakistan, where charges have come down in a high-profile child murder case. And I just want to warn you - they are going to be some violent details here that could disturb some of you. This is a story that centers on a young girl. She was found in a trash heap after being raped and killed. And this sparked deadly protest riots in her hometown, and the rest of Pakistan took note.

NPR's Diaa Hadid is in Islamabad. Hi, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So first of all, it sounds like there's been a big development in this case.

HADID: Right. So yesterday, Pakistani officials said that they had apprehended the suspect in this case. He's a 23-year-old man who knew the family. People are now clamoring for his public execution, including senators in Pakistan's Parliament.

GREENE: Is there something unique about this case that has caused so much outrage that we're seeing right now?

HADID: You know, this case, sadly, isn't unique at all. The town where this girl, Zainab Amin, is from - it's called Kasur. And its name is actually synonymous with child rape. In 2015, a massive pedophile ring was uncovered there. It involved 285 children. And some of them were raped at gunpoint and filmed. And after Zainab was killed, eight other families petitioned the provincial high court, demanding justice for their children who were also assaulted and murdered in the same neighborhood as Zainab over the past two years.

GREENE: So I guess then - I wonder, if we're seeing all of this outrage in response, are we seeing a turning point in Pakistan?

HADID: Well, activists say it actually is an important step. This morning, I rushed to the offices of Mamtaz Gohar. He's with Sahil. It's a child protection advocacy group. He speaks in broken English, but this is what he had to say.

MAMTAZ GOHAR: We give totally credit to this Zainab case because after this case, we have more media sensitization. Child sexual abuse is still a terrible subject in our society, and now it has been discussing in our family with our children.

HADID: And so - I mean, what he's saying here is that actually after Zainab's murder, dozens of families came forward across Pakistan to report the same thing had happened to their children. And that is a step forward. But, you know, Mamtaz and other activists say there's so much left to go because this is a whole institution and structure that leaves children vulnerable. There's a culture of shame around speaking out about sexual assault.

And poor families are often intimidated when they try to tell authorities what happened to their children. Perpetrators are often powerful. The police can be negligent. Lawyers can be expensive. And so activists like Mamtaz say justice is still nearly impossible to obtain...


HADID: ...Especially for poor families.

GREENE: It's a long road to travel to actually get rid of the cultural shame and have the right response to something like this. But what do you think is happening here? Is the case of this little girl - I mean - just people have just reached a point of not being able to accept anything more?

HADID: You know, it seems actually like, yes, that's what happened. There was three days of rioting in Kasur after Zainab was killed. And this case really became national after people in social media picked it up. And what they were doing were tweeting two pictures of Zainab side by side. One of them showed a beautiful little girl in a pink jacket, and she was smiling. And the other one showed a broken body on a trash heap. And that seems to have ignited this national conversation because people could finally see what this looked like.

GREENE: NPR's Diaa Hadid reporting for us in Islamabad this morning.

Diaa, thank you.

HADID: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF LTO'S "RISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.