A nine-year-old child has been gang-raped and murdered in Indian-administered Kashmir’s Baramullah district, bringing back memories of the brutal gang rape of an eight-year-old in the Jammu region of the state.
Police in Kashmir said on Wednesday that the child had gone missing on August 23 and was murdered the same day.
Five people have been arrested in connection with the case, including the stepmother and the stepbrother.
The girl was lured to a secluded spot in a forest by her stepmother and was raped in turn by her 14-year-old stepbrother, his friends and accomplices, the police said.
Later, the stepmother strangled her and the stepbrother swung an axe at her head. One of the men gouged out her eyes and burned parts of her body with acid to destroy evidence, the police added.
“There is conclusive evidence for murder, there is destruction of evidence in regards to rape. But we have got vital clues to prove the rape charges in the court,” Mir Imtiyaz Hussain, police chief in Baramullah district who is supervising the investigation, told Al Jazeera.
“We have identified the culprits. Our job will be complete when the culprits are convicted in a court of law,” he added.
Police say they found the decomposed body in a forest near her home in Uri on September 2, almost 10 days after she went missing.
The father of the child had two wives and the first wife harboured acrimonious feelings towards the second wife and her daughter which spurred her to murder the child, police said.
The police said they are building a “watertight case” so the perpetrators are punished this time.
One of the men gouged out her (the victim's) eyes and burnt parts of her body with acid to destroy evidence
The case is the second such incident in the restive Kashmir region after the brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua earlier this year, which caused widespread revulsion across India.
The girl in Kathua was held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and beaten to death with a stone in January.
Violence against women in the South Asian country is widespread and has deep roots.
In recent years, the country has witnessed renewed public outrage over the number of violent sexual assaults against women, especially children.
In July this year, doctors confirmed sexual abuse at a girls’ shelter in the state of Bihar, with children reporting being beaten, drugged, raped and scalded with hot water.
A child is sexually abused every 15 minutes in India, according to NGO Child Rights.
Crimes against minors have risen more than 500 percent over the past decade, the right group said, after analysing government data.
In 2016, police in India received 38,947 reports of rape compared with almost 35,000 in 2015, according to data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau.
India has enacted strident anti-rape laws in response to nationwide outrage in the wake of a series of child rape cases.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act has now been amended to introduce the death penalty for the rape of children below age 12.
But campaigners say laws, on their own, do not act as a deterrent.
“The brutal assault on this child tells us the law is not working. When you have death penalty for rape, they don’t just rape, but they murder and they destroy evidence like they tried with this girl by using acid,” Enakshi Ganguly, founder and adviser at HAQ Centre for Child Rights in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera.
“This case should be a lesson to the government. They rushed to bring the death penalty but the number of rapes have not gone down. What we are dealing with is what is happening behind closed doors, inside families. Our studies show in more than 70 percent of child abuse cases, the rapists are known to the family,” she added.