LAHORE -  A high-powered joint investigation team, comprising police investigators and intelligence operatives, launched a probe into the Zainab murder case as calm returned to Kasur city on Friday, after three-day protests and violence.

Traffic was seen flowing on all the roads leading to Kasur, including Lahore-Kasur highway, and shopkeepers reopened their businesses in the city. Earlier, the traders’ community observed a shutter-down strike for two days to condemn the rape and murder of seven-year-old Zainab.

Punjab Police Inspector General Arif Nawaz Khan told reporters that the joint investigation team constituted to investigate the Zainab murder case is examining all the available evidences.

“The real killer will be arrested very soon. The JIT is busy in investigation in the light of the evidences collected so far,” the police chief said after visiting the residence of the victim family. IGP Khan also met the parents of Zainab and condoled the horrific killing with them.

“Several people have been rounded up, all the evidences related to this incident have been collected and the investigators have recorded the statements of the family members of the victim and others,” the provincial police officer said.

DIG Muhammad Idrees who heads the JIT also accompanied the police chief during his visit to Kasur city. Regional Police Officer Zulfikar Hameed and DPO Kasur Zahid Nawaz Marwat were also present on this occasion.

According to a police spokesman, the IGP assured the parents of the child of bringing the killer to justice very soon. The IGP said the police has accepted this case as a challenge and are working on it.

“All available resources are being utilised. Different agencies are helping police investigation to bring this case to a logical end,” the IGP said.

On Thursday, the provincial government pulled back the head of the JIT after the father of the victim expressed his distrust in Abu Bakar Khuda Bakhsh. According to a notification, Additional IG Abu Bakar Khuda Bakhsh was replaced with Multan Regional Police Officer Muhammad Idrees.

As police and paramilitary troops began patrolling Kasur roads, normalcy returned to this violence-hit city. “The flag march was carried out by the police and Punjab Rangers to improve sense of security among the residents,” a police official affirmed.

A police source close to the JIT told this reporter that they were waiting for the DNA reports of several suspected persons to identify the country’s most wanted criminal.

“If the DNA test matches any of the samples sent to the laboratory, it will be a breakthrough,” the official said on the condition of anonymity. Police are also investigating the CCTV footage that showed the girl walking with a stranger near Peerowala Road shortly after she went missing.

Seven-year-old Zainab was abducted by a man when she was going to a nearby religious school on January 4. She was found abandoned in the fields near Elite College on Shahbaz Khan Road on Tuesday afternoon, locals said.

The police investigators say they believe the child was killed four or five days before she was found dead. A shepherd made hue and cry as he witnessed the body.

HRCP blasts government

“The brutal rape and murder of the seven-year-old girl in Kasur, slackness in the police investigation and violence against the demonstrators seeking justice for the child is a deplorable situation for the state authorities,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said Friday.

“The dismissal of the police officials concerned or suo motu action by a court as a response to tragic cases like that of Zainab is neither permanent nor effective solution to children’s sexual abuse in the country, but is simply a way to allay the public’s emotions temporarily,” the HRCP held.

“Can the provincial government explain how or why demonstrators were fired at in Kasur the day Zainab’s case became public and in which two people were killed? Can the provincial government share what relief measures have been provided to the victims of sexual abuse in Kasur in prior cases and what measures it has taken generally to curb this menace permanently?” the commission questioned.

“After the introduction of the 18th Amendment, it is the responsibility of provincial governments to devise child protection policies. Can the provincial governments provide details of their progress in this regard?” the HRCP questioned.

“This is a disturbing trend that at least 11 children are sexually abused daily and most of them are murdered after assault. This indicates a widespread menace that requires prompt, strict and sustainable action by the relevant authorities,” the commission stated.

“In 2016, 4,139 incidents of child sexual abuse took place of which 43 percent survivors were known to the offenders while 16 percent of the reported cases showed family members as the perpetrators,” the HRCP continued.

The HRCP’s fact-finding report on the child pornography scandal in Kasur in 2015 revealed that several such cases were reported, but only after being highlighted in the mainstream media. When parents of the victims were asked why they had not reported the abuse in time, they gave two reasons, the social stigma attached to such incidents and the atrocious behaviour of police with those reporting the matter timely.

The helpline launched by the Child Protection Bureau Punjab a few years ago was a commendable step. However, the utility and importance of the helpline was not disseminated in an effective way. The helpline needs to be made more accessible and children enrolled in schools and seminaries should be made aware of its scope, the HRCP suggested.

The HRCP also suggested the mass media should also realise that adequate follow-up on reported cases is vital for accountability and as a long-term method to prevent such horrific incidents.

“Our provincial governments must take steps to include these themes in school curricula to make pupils and their families aware of such sensitive issues and empower them to protect themselves. They should be made aware of contact persons or facilities they can immediately approach on facing such situations.

“As a nation, we are responsible for protecting our children and should together play an effective role in addressing this menace,” the commission said.