Police in Lahore, Pakistan, have arrested a man for the rape and murder of 7-year-old Zainab Ansari, officials said on Tuesday.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif identified the suspect as 24-year-old Mohammed Imran, who confessed to killing Ansari and at least seven other children, according to The Associated Press. Local news outlets reported the suspect was known to Ansari’s family.
Sharif said at a news conference that a forensics lab had processed over 1,000 DNA samples linking Imran to a string of child slayings before making the arrest.
“The beast has confessed to have committed the past such crimes,” the official told reporters. “His DNA was matched 100 percent with samples collected from crime scenes.”
Ansari was reported missing in early January after leaving her aunt’s house to walk to a Quran class in Kasur, a city in the Pakistani province of Punjab on the border with India. Police recovered her body from a garbage dumpster several days later.
The child’s murder sparked protests around Pakistan, forcing schools and stores in Kasur to close for several days as outraged residents took to the streets. Two people were killed in the fray when police fired at the crowd.
Pictures of Ansari, smiling and dressed in a pink jacket, circulated in news reports and on social media, contrasting with the particularly gruesome details of her rape and death. The tragedy attracted international attention and incited calls for the government to take action.
Her death also brought renewed attention to the abductions and rapes of seven other children in Kasur. Only one of the victims, a 6-year-old girl, was not killed, and all of them were found to have Imran’s DNA on them.
But Ansari’s father, Mohammed Amin Ansari, suggested it’s not enough to point the finger at one serial predator, saying police should have done more to warn the public.
“People don’t talk about sexual abuse,” he told the AP.
There have been at least 20 cases of children abducted, raped and killed in the Kasur district in the last year, according to local lawyer and activist Waqas Abid. Pakistan’s Senate committee tasked with overseeing policing recently launched an inquiry into the sexual assaults in Kasur.
But activists say a larger culture of shaming rape victims is partly to blame. In Pakistan, rape victims are sometimes punished for their own assaults and jailed for adultery. Tribal councils, a traditional justice system, have sentenced women and girls to be raped as punishment for crimes committed by their male relatives.
Pakistani fashion designer Maheen Khan, who has spoken openly about her own sexual abuse as a child, said she hoped Ansari’s death would effect a change in culture.
“What disturbs me the most is the silence when a little girl gets raped,” Khan told the AP. “It has to do with the honor of family. Parents tell their daughters: ‘Don’t talk about it. Don’t tell anyone.’ Our silence is saying it is all right to sexually molest a child.”
But, she added: “We are now saying enough is enough. We should have woken up long ago.”