Editor's note: This story contains details of violence.
The rape and murder of a 5-year-old girl named Marwah in Karachi, Pakistan, has sparked an outpouring of tributes on social media, with many using the #JusticeForMarwah hashtag to demand better protection for minors.
According to local media, Marwah was kidnapped after attempting to buy biscuits at a local shop on Friday. Her body was found in a garbage heap two days later, and a subsequent autopsy report revealed she had been sexually assaulted, hit in the head, and set alight.
Pakistani sports stars, celebrities, and activists joined the flood of outrage on social media.
Shan Masood, an international cricketer who plays for the Pakistan national cricket team, said keeping quiet about child sexual abuse and gender-based violence is no longer an option.
"High time we give this matter the utmost importance. We cannot lose our youth to such disgusting and inhuman acts. Keeping quiet is contributing to the issue. We must stand up to these cowards and take action. My heart goes out to you and your family Marwah. #JusticeForMarwah,” Masood said on Twitter.
Voice of Pakistan Minority, a minority rights organization, called on Pakistani politicians to step up.
Marwah’s rape and murder comes just months after Pakistan’s parliament passed a new law on child abuse.
The Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Bill, passed in March, introduced a life imprisonment penalty for those found guilty of child abuse, as well as a dedicated helpline and agency.
The country’s first national child abuse legislation also requires police to register a case of abuse within two hours of a child being reported missing. Law enforcement officers must also complete their investigations into individual cases within three months.
Activists initially applauded the bill, but have since raised concerns over its effectiveness and practicality.
"Our laws are certainly strong enough for convictions in child abuse cases," said Manizeh Bano, the executive director of child protection organization Sahil, according to Al Jazeera. "The problem remains with implementation."
The legislation was passed two years after a similar rape and murder case caught national attention.
Zainab Ansari was a 7-year-old girl who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in the Pakistani province of Punjab in 2018. The murder of Ansari, who was also found in a garbage heap, followed 11 similar cases within a 10-kilometer radius in a year.
The man found guilty of her rape and murder was executed, and the law was named in her honor.
Pakistan recorded 2,846 child abuse cases last year. However, due to social pressure, stigma, the religious nature of Pakistani society, patriarchal attitudes, and inadequate resources, many cases go unreported.
At least one person has so far been detained in relation to Marwah’s rape and murder.
If you have experienced sexual abuse, call the free, confidential National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or access the 24-7 help online by visiting online.rainn.org. You can find international resources here.