In Pakistan, One Girl's Death Could Lead To Changes In Country's Culture
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
To Pakistan next, where people are clamoring for the public hanging of an alleged serial killer. A warning - there are details coming over these next four minutes or so that could disturb some listeners. This story begins with a little girl. She was found in a trash heap after being raped and killed. It is an awful story. And among the many questions it's raising is whether her death might lead to changes in Pakistan. NPR's Diaa Hadid visited her hometown today, and Diaa joins me now. Hi.
DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hey there, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Tell us what this little girl's name was and what you found when you visited her town.
HADID: So this little girl - her name was Zainab Amin. She was 7 years old. And she was from a provincial cotton mill town called Kasur. It's about an hour from where I am. And it could be anywhere in Pakistan except for this. Just about every kid I saw was escorted. And when I asked their parents, their grandparents and their older siblings why these kids weren't running around freely like they are anywhere else in Pakistan, they said it was because they were afraid of letting them out alone. One of the people I spoke to is a human rights lawyer called Waqas Abid, and here's what he had to say. He really echoes what residents were feeling.
WAQAS ABID: This is very painful for me. Whenever they go to the school, I try to drop them myself. And we - all family members are very much careful. It's very painful when I think that - what happened with the innocent children in our city.
HADID: So when he says the innocent children in our city, what he's talking about is that activists count here that 13 children were raped and killed over the past two years here. The 13th child was Zainab.
KELLY: Now, police believe they have found the alleged killer. He's been arrested. Is that right?
HADID: That's right. He's a 23-year-old construction worker, and he lived about a minute's walk from where Zainab lived. And I spoke to his neighbors today, and they said he'd like to go to the roof of their building to watch the girls in the pink-painted primary school that's just across the narrow alleyway.
KELLY: To look down at the girls school - it's awful. It sends chills up your spine.
KELLY: Let me ask you this. He's been caught, but you said people are still scared of letting their children out to run around freely. Why?
HADID: Because people worry that there might be another murderer. And it really just - it just gets to the heart of the problem in Kasur and generally in Pakistan - is that people don't trust the police. They don't trust the government. They see their officials as corrupt, inept, inefficient. And they see them as being subservient to the rich and contemptuous of the poor. And most of the families whose children were killed here are quite poor.
KELLY: So Diaa, people are furious, I gather. There have been riots. There have been calls for this suspect to be hanged if he's found guilty. People have attacked the police station where he was being held. Do we know yet what the lasting impact might be, what changes this might result in going forward?
HADID: So when I was in Kasur today, I went to the police station which still reeks of smoke from when residents tried to burn it down. And there was still smashed cars in the yard. And police said that the furor around this case really changed things, and it forced the state government to throw more resources and money at this case, which is why they were able to solve it. And so that's one important change that we might see looking forward - is that the government will be reluctant to let these cases drag on like they did in the past.
KELLY: I also wonder, Diaa. Is it significant just that this is - we are talking about this girl by name. Her family has come forward. The national press is all over this story. Are there more cases coming to light as a result of what happened to her?
HADID: Yeah, there are. I spoke to one NGO worker who said that he counted 100 more cases that had come forward after Zainab's death created this...
KELLY: One hundred - wow.
HADID: ...Enormous response in the media. One hundred - and those aren't cases that happened after she was killed. They're families who were reluctant to say what had happened to their children, who found the courage to come forward. That in itself is a pretty big deal here.
KELLY: That's NPR's Diaa Hadid reporting from Lahore. Diaa, thank you.
HADID: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.