ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A 5-year-old girl in southern Pakistan was raped, hit on the head and set on fire. Five days later, a woman in the country’s east was dragged from her car and sexually assaulted on a highway in front of her children.
The two episodes, which occurred hundreds of miles apart, have prompted protests and an outpouring of rage in a country that critics say has a toxic culture surrounding sexual assaults and child abuse.
Hashtags calling for justice for the victims have been shared widely on social media by ordinary people, opposition politicians and high-profile athletes, including Shan Masood, a member of Pakistan’s national cricket team.
“We cannot lose our youth to such disgusting and inhuman acts,” Mr. Masood wrote on Twitter. “Keeping quiet is contributing to the issue. We must stand up to these cowards and take action.”
Pakistan has been plagued by episodes of rape and child abuse over the years. Victims are often treated as criminals or blamed for the assaults. Human rights activists have long said that officials at all levels of the national government have regularly failed to address the issue in a comprehensive way.
“There is a lot of indifference” to such cases from Pakistani officials, said Mehnaz Akber Aziz, a member of the opposition in Pakistan’s National Assembly and a prominent children’s rights advocate. “There is no empathy, only silence. That is changing, because the public is pushing back.”
Ms. Aziz said that most of the child rape and abuse victims come from small towns or villages, and their cases do not usually catch fire on social media. Officials generally do not visit them either, she said, and perpetrators are often quietly released after public outrage has subsided — lending a sense of impunity after the crimes.
“You are signaling to these people, the rapists, that ‘It’s OK, you can continue doing what you’re doing and there will be a way out, even if you’re arrested,’” she said.
But she said that the public rage over the girl’s killing was the largest groundswell of anger in a case of child rape and murder that she had seen on social media in recent memory — outrage that has had the government scrambling to respond.
The girl was kidnapped last Friday after going to buy cookies at a shop in the southern port city of Karachi, the police said. Her body was found two days later, and an autopsy indicated that she had been sexually assaulted.
The police have arrested more than 20 suspects in the case, and investigators said on Wednesday that one had admitted to kidnapping and murder.
In the second case, the woman was driving late Tuesday night with her three children from Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab Province, to the city of Gujranwala, when her car ran out of fuel. She called the police, and as she waited for assistance, two men, both believed to be in their 30s, broke the driver’s-side window with sticks and stones and dragged her and her children off the road.
The woman was raped multiple times, and the men stole her A.T.M. cards, jewelry and cash, the police said. The Lahore police chief, Muhammad Umar Sheikh, later said that an extensive search for the culprits was underway.
But the police chief also appeared to blame the woman for the crime, questioning why she had been traveling late at night without an adult male companion, and why she had not checked to see that her car had enough fuel for the journey.
The backlash was swift.
Social media users — writing under the hashtag #motorwayincident — several leading politicians, television talk show hosts and celebrities called for him to be fired.
“If a top police officer can openly engage in victim blaming imagine how junior policemen treat rape survivors,” Ailia Zehra, a Pakistani journalist, wrote on Twitter on Thursday. “THIS is why women don’t report sexual crimes.”
Shireen Mazari, the minister for human rights in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet, condemned the comments by the police chief, who serves in a province that is controlled by Mr. Khan’s governing party. “Nothing can ever rationalize the crime of rape,” she wrote on Twitter. “That’s it.”
Dr. Mazari did not immediately respond to a request for comment early on Friday.
Reacting to both cases, Mr. Khan said in a series of tweets on Thursday that officials would bring the perpetrators to justice. “Such brutality and bestiality cannot be allowed in any civilized society,” Mr. Khan said.
Pakistan ranks 147th out of the 182 countries that have ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, according to an index on children’s well-being published by the KidsRights Foundation, a research and advocacy group in the Netherlands. The index measures the prevalence of child labor and rates of mortality and malnutrition, among other criteria.
Pakistan’s consistently poor ranking in the survey proves that “policymakers and state machinery in Pakistan have utterly ignored welfare and rights of children,” Ms. Aziz, the opposition lawmaker and children’s rights advocate, wrote last year in The News International, a major English-language daily in Pakistan.
Some sexual assault cases in the country have led to calls for a national reckoning.
In 2015, Pakistan was rocked by accusations that at least 280 children under the age of 14 in villages in eastern Punjab Province had been subjected to sexual abuse by a gang of 15 men, who made videos to extort money from the children and their parents.
More recently, the case of Muhammad Faizan, an 8-year-old boy who was raped and killed in the eastern Pakistani city of Chunian, drew more outrage and protests. People surrounded the local police station and accused officers of neglect.
There are signs that the country is moving to tackle the issue.
Under legislation that Parliament passed in March, anyone who kidnaps, rapes or murders a minor can face life imprisonment or the death penalty. On Friday, Ms. Aziz said that the measure should be the start of a broad array of reforms to promote child welfare.
But to her knowledge, Ms. Aziz said, no one had been prosecuted under the legislation so far.
Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Mike Ives from Hong Kong.