A five-year-old Indian girl was battling for her life on Friday after being kidnapped and brutally raped, in the latest incident of violence against women and girls which has triggered protests.
The girl was attacked inside a locked room in New Delhi over a 48-hour period, police said, after being abducted as she played outside on Monday.
A neighbour is alleged to have taken her and locked her in a room close to her house in a lower-middle class area of the capital city, a police spokesman said.
"We initially registered a case of kidnapping. We have now launched a preliminary inquiry into rape and attempted murder," Rajan Bhagat told AFP, adding a hunt was on to catch the main accused.
The girl was admitted to the intensive care unit of a city hospital on Wednesday and doctors said her condition was "critical".
"The girl was traumatised when she was brought to us. There were injuries to her lips, cheeks and chest wall. There were bruises on her neck," R. N. Bansal, medical superintendent of Swami Dayanand hospital, told NDTV news channel.
Another media report said the girl's genital area had been mutilated.
"There were foreign objects found inside her and this has resulted in infection," the CNN-IBN news channel said, quoting another doctor at the hospital.
She was found after a passerby heard her crying and alerted the police.
The incident provides grist for a growing debate in India over the status of women and girls and their safety in a country which was rocked by the brutal gang-rape of a student in Delhi on a bus last year.
The woman succumbed to her injuries 13 days after the assault in which her attackers drove an iron rod inside her, damaging her internal organs.
The attack on the student triggered nationwide protests and prompted lawmakers to toughen punishment for sexual offences.
The parents of the five-year-old girl, who had reported her missing, accused the police of being insensitive in their investigation.
"They were reluctant to register our complaint. Then the police asked us to be content with the fact she was at least found alive," the father of the girl said.