Before Zainab, there was Kainaat Batool

Natasha Mohammad Zai

The injuries have healed. But she is still in the hospital. On most nights, she sleeps for long hours, and when she wakes up she cries uncontrollably. She doesn’t recognise anyone, not her parents or her younger siblings. Meals are forcefully fed to her by the nurses. In the last two months, six-year-old Kainaat Batool has barely spoken.

On November 11, at 6pm, Batool left her home to buy yoghurt from a nearby kiosk. But on her way back, a few steps away from her door, she vanished. Rattled, Ehsan, her father, some neighbours and friends quickly alerted the police in Kasur. Twenty-four hours later they received a call. A girl, matching the description of Batool, was found lying in a trash heap outside Kasur’s main wholesale market. When they found her she was unconscious, her clothes were ripped and bruises dotted her face.

Kasur an hour’s drive from Punjab’s capital city, Lahore, has witnessed a sustained campaign of child abuse and paedophilia since 2015, when a gang was busted which sexually exploited and filmed over 300 minors. Last year, 12 children were abducted and raped, according to Punjab’s Child Protection Bureau. Few made it out alive. Batool was one of them.

“The day we found her, we rushed her to Lahore’s Children Hospital,” her father tells, “She stayed there till Jan 2, after which the doctors said it was best to take her home. But we knew she was not yet okay.”

The six-year-old is in Kasur’s DHQ Hospital for the past ten days. “The doctors say they found torture marks on her body,” Ehsan adds.

Batool’s father is a daily wage labourer. He hasn’t earned a penny since the day his daughter was found. “I am making do financially with some friends’ help. I would not be able to afford hospital expenses otherwise.” Doctors tell the girl’s family that she is in need of sustained psychological counselling.

Although the police have yet to confirm that this was a case of sexual abuse, Ehsan has no complaints about their efforts. Senior officers often help him buy medicines, others call to get updates on the child’s health.

The father says he understands the agony of Zainab’s parents, who found their seven-year-old child lifeless body also in a garbage dump. “It has to be the same man. It has to be the same person who did this to Kainaat,” says Ehsan.