Sorcery-related violence and killings are increasing in PNG, aid workers say
Violence and murder related to allegations of sorcery is increasingly dividing families and claiming innocent lives across Papua New Guinea, aid workers say.
Once confined to small pockets of the country, sorcery-related violence is now far more widespread with both men and women accused of witchcraft being attacked and often killed.
Sorcery-related violence refers to attacks carried out on those accused of wielding supernatural powers or witchcraft to harm another person.
Helen Mark, who coordinates Oxfam's gender justice program in PNG, said the problem has only grown in the past four to five years.
"Previously we have not seen an increase. Sorcery-related violence was something that was dealt with at a community level and dealt among leaders," Ms Mark said.
"But now it's widespread and sorcery-related killings and accusations are becoming more of a frequent occurrence."
Ms Mark said accusations of sorcery are often used as a scapegoating tactic to target certain individuals.
"[Accusations are made] if there was someone who has, for example, said something against the person who has died, or has made a threat against that person," she said.
"So people will be mobilising and telling that person that you are responsible for the death of this person because of what you had said."
'If you want to kill me, you can kill me'
One female survivor of sorcery-related violence, who requested anonymity, was accused of sorcery following the death of a child in her community.
"When the child died, they went to where I was riding back from from the garden and they bashed me up on the way," she said through an interpreter.
"After beating me up, they took me to the child where he was lying dead and then took me there to see the child.
"They told me I was the one who killed the child, and people were saying I am not from around here, I have no people to protect me — so kill me."
But the woman, who did not hail from the local area, was rescued by a bystander who took her to hospital to receive treatment for her wounds.
"So I said, 'I have no place else to go, so I surrender. If you want to kill me, you can kill me'," she said.
Ms Mark from Oxfam said this kind of story is common in PNG, and an equal number of males and females are being targeted.
A male survivor of sorcery-related violence said he was exiled by his family following the death of a cousin in his community.
"My relatives got together and they said I was the one who used the sorcery on my family member to kill him," he said through an interpreter.
Accusations used as scapegoating
Ms Mark said one part of the problem is that any member of a community can level an accusation at any other without any evidence.
This is compounded by the use of sorcery accusations to target members of the community already facing ostracism within their community.
"Yes, sorcery accusations are now being seen as kind of scapegoating," she said.
"So it is an excuse that people are using to perpetrate violence on another person."
But Ms Mark said she is confident that with a concerted campaign to raise awareness of the issue, it could be turned around.
"The PNG Government has also invested in certain laws and policies, and one of them is family protection aid," she said.
"At the community level, Oxfam creates partnerships with community-based organisations working in the area of gender-based violence to address sorcery-related violence.
"So within our partners, we are also investing in partners to disseminate information into the communities so they are aware of the laws that are in place and the penalties for sorcery-related violence."