The killer who raped and murdered seven-year-old Zainab Ansari has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani anti-terrorism court.

Imran Ali, 24, has been handed four death sentences and life imprisonment for the murder of Ansari, whose body was found raped and strangled in a rubbish dump on 9 January.

"The court handed down death on four counts and life imprisonment to Imran Ali in the rape and murder of the little girl, Zainab," government prosecutor Ehtisham Qadir Shah told Reuters on Saturday (17 February).

Ali is suspected of being the serial killer behind the murders of eight other minors in the district of Kasur.

He confessed after police investigators said they had matched DNA from nine victims, including Zainab, with Ali.

Zainab
The murder of 7-year-old Zainab Ansari sparked riots across Pakistan, with hundreds of people protesting against police negligence. Twitter

Zainab was kidnapped while she was walking from her house to her Quran studies class on 4 January. CCTV footage shows her being led away by a man dressed in white. Ali was arrested on 23 January.

Her father, who was away on a pilgrimage in Mecca at the time of his daughter's murder, accused the police in Kasur of negligence and said that an immediate response when the alarm was raised could have saved Zainab's life.

He said police should have optimised the images of the suspect caught on CCTV to trace him. If police had done this, "[my] daughter could have been rescued alive", he suggested.

The young girl's brutal murder sparked outrage, with protests against police negligence flaring up across Pakistan. Two protesters were killed when police fired shots to disperse the mob.

The killing has reignited a debate about child protection in the district of Kasur, where police say a number of children went missing in 2015 after they uncovered a paedophile ring linked to a prominent family.

At least two people have been arrested in connection with the ring, which police say abused hundreds of children in Kasur, Reuters reported.

Around 10 cases of child abuse are reported in Pakistan every day, according to Sahil, a child protection organisation.