Poverty seen as driver of sorcery in PNG

4:14 pm on 6 April 2017

A Papua New Guinea NGO says poverty is a prominent factor in ongoing sorcery-related attacks and killings.

A photo taken on February 6, 2013 shows a crowd watching as a young mother accused of sorcery, is stripped naked, reportedly tortured with a branding iron, tied up, splashed with fuel and set alight on a pile of rubbish topped with car tyres, in Mount Hagen city in the Western Highlands of PNG.

A photo taken on February 6, 2013 shows a crowd watching as a young mother accused of sorcery, is stripped naked, reportedly tortured with a branding iron, tied up, splashed with fuel and set alight on a pile of rubbish topped with car tyres, in Mount Hagen city in the Western Highlands of PNG. Photo: AFP/Post Courier

Women Arise PNG, a movement working to counter violence against females, said there has been a growth of such incidents particularly in the Highlands.

Under-resourced policing and a lack of willing witnesses remain obstacles to prosecuting cases of sorcery-related attacks in PNG's courts.

The NGO's representative Esther Igo said it was proving difficult to change the mindset of PNG communities who believed in sorcery.

Close up photo of the foot of a young mother under burning tires taken on February 6, 2013 in Mount Hagen city in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Close up photo of the foot of a young mother under burning tires taken on February 6, 2013 in Mount Hagen city in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Photo: STR / POST COURIER / AFP

She said a lot of innocent people had been accused of sorcery, but that also many were seen to willingly take up practising it.

"Poverty is a driver more for younger people and the people who now believe and are engaged in sorcery, they are acquiring the powers, witchcraft or sorcery powers, because for them it's a means of making income. People are going to them and saying 'look, I don't like this person, here is some money, kill them'," said Esther Igo.

She said the difficulty of proving sorcery was complicating efforts to legislate about sorcery-related attacks.

The Supreme Court in Papua New Guinea.

The Supreme Court in Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZI/Johnny Blades

Four years ago, parliament repealed the 1971 Sorcery Act which criminalised sorcery and recognised the accusation of sorcery as a defence in murder cases.

Ms Igo said moves to establish a new Sorcery Act to adequately define the problem had stalled, partly because the nature of sorcery made it difficult to prove it has happened.

"Because in a court system it's evidence based. And because sorcery is very difficult to actually prove that there is a cause, that there is a direct relationship or a direct occurrence, or an event that led to a death, that has been difficult for the government to actually pass an Act," said Esther Igo.

Traditional tribal dance at mask festival.7th Gulf Mask Festival, Toare Village, Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea on June 19, 2011

Traditional tribal dance at mask festival.7th Gulf Mask Festival, Toare Village, Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea on June 19, 2011 Photo: Copyright: danemo / 123RF Stock Photo

Ms Igo explained that in PNG society, there was still a tendency for communities to become suspicious about the cause of deaths, and to attribute them to sorcery-related, or supernatural, causes.

She said it's going to take a lot of education to change the mindset.

"Sorcery and poverty are very directly related, they're very close cousins."

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