SESHANBE, Tajikistan -- Prosecutors are investigating the brutal rape and murder of a Tajik schoolgirl, allegedly at the hands of her teenage classmates, a crime that has left the residents of one quiet village reeling in shock.
The 16-year-old was allegedly lured out of her grandparent's house in Seshanbe, some 65 kilometers west of the capital, Dushanbe, on February 3 by two male classmates, who raped her before stabbing her to death and setting her body alight, the Prosecutor-General's Office said on February 16.
It was the fourth violent death of a teenager in Tajikistan so far this year.
The names of the latest victim and of the suspected attackers – both also 16 -- cannot be released for legal reasons, says Umarjon Emomali, a spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office.
"She received a phone call from her classmates at around midnight," the victim's grandparents told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on February 17. "The classmates asked her to come out just for a brief moment because they wanted to ask her something. Only five minutes after she left, we got worried and went out to look for her. But she wasn't outside."
The family says they looked for the girl all night before notifying police. Her burned body was found two days later, dumped in a remote field some 9 kilometers away.
The family says they were initially told by local authorities that the girl had taken her own life, a conclusion that didn't sit well with the family.The victim's grandfather says she was a "happy girl" who was planning to enroll in a nearby art-and-crafts school to learn dressmaking.
The family took the case to the Prosecutor-General's Office, prompting a criminal probe that began with the exhumation of her body.
Prosecutors say forensics concluded that the girl had been raped and stabbed 12 times before her body was burned. The records of the victim's mobile phone led to the arrest of the two suspects, who have since pleaded guilty to the crime, authorities say.
Prosecutors say they are probing possible negligence in the handling of the case by regional police, including a lack of proper forensics. No one has yet been charged.
The residents of Seshanbe say they are shocked and frightened that such a heinous crime could be committed in their quiet farming village on the outskirts of the southwestern city of Tursunzoda.
"I didn't believe something like this could happen in our neighborhood," says resident Hikmat Qulov. "Now we are worried about our children, especially our daughters when they leave home."
Violent Teenage Deaths
The investigation into the girl's killing comes after the violent deaths of three other teenagers and as Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon has expressed concern about what he said are increasing crime rates among youth in Dushanbe and other regions.
Scuffles among schoolchildren and other young people have recently led to a "serious disruption of public order and even the deaths of people," Rahmon said in a speech on February 15.
According to the president, "young people and teenagers" were responsible for some 75 percent of the 3,000 hooliganism crimes recorded in the Tajik capital in the past 10 years.
Two teenagers, aged 17 and 18, were killed during a gang brawl in Dushanbe late on January 2.
A similar scuffle on January 11 led to the killing of a 19-year-old man in the city.
Police say several young men have been detained in connection with those killings.
Tajikistan has adopted a so-called parents' responsibilities law that holds parents liable for crimes committed by their underage children.
The rise in crimes committed by Tajik youth has been widely blamed on widespread unemployment and poverty in the former Soviet nation of some 8 million.
Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondent Mumin Ahmadi