Algiers — Eight-year-old Chaïma Yousfi was watching cartoons a fortnight ago when someone knocked on the door of her family home in Zeralda, west of Algiers. Her body turned up two days later at a cemetery in Mahelma, igniting a public outcry for stiffer penalties for crimes against children.
Chaïma was the 36th child to be abducted in Algeria within the last year. Some 1,000 children have been kidnapped in the last decade.
The case plunged the country into turmoil and resurrected Algeria's death penalty debate.
"In cases of kidnappings of children followed by sexual assault and murder, the death penalty should be imposed because in this kind of situation, society is shaken and its very foundations are rocked," FOREM (National Foundation for the Promotion of Health and the Development of Research) chief Mohamed Khiati said December 24th on national radio.
"Each abduction of a child is one disappearance too many," he added.
Khiati also called for the introduction of a kidnap alert system.
"We can't keep waiting for hours before we start search operations. Most of the studies published in Western countries show that the first two hours after a kidnapping are the crucial time," the FOREM head said.
Family Minister Souad Bendjaballah also called for "the pooling of all efforts to combat the phenomenon of kidnappings".
"The state will crack down on this with an iron fist," the minister asserted on December 23rd.
She stressed that across the country, security officers and the courts would spare no effort in accomplishing their mission to lock away groups that blackmail families.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General also responded to the tragedy of little Chaïma, vowing that those responsible for the brutal killing would face the full force of the law.
Farouk Ksentini, who heads the National Consultative Committee for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH), also proposed that criminal sentences be made tougher.
"The country really needs a law for repeat offenders", Algeria's top human rights official insisted.
Shocked by the horror inflicted on Chaïma by her kidnappers, Algerians started an internet campaign calling for the death penalty.
"I'm in favour of reinstating the death penalty for child kidnappers. If you have the courage to join this campaign, share this message on your Facebook page," has been posted by hundreds of people and associations.
Panic has gripped Algerian families. "I'm there outside the door of my son's school a quarter of an hour, and sometimes half an hour, before school finishes. I don't trust anyone any more. Every day, you hear about children being kidnapped. It's unbearable", says Mrs Meriem.
"I forbid my son to go out on his own. Children have become a target for attackers," says Malika, a mother of three.
As for the slain child's family, life will never be the same.
"Chaïma was the apple of my eye. She was the light that guided me in my life. She helped me in my work as tea seller. Today, my life has lost its meaning. I ask our authorities to implement justice by finding and punishing the criminals," her bereaved father told Ennahar TV.