PNG sets up taskforce to investigate brutal torture of young girl accused of sorcery

PNG sets up taskforce to investigate brutal torture of young girl accused of sorcery

PNG sets up taskforce to investigate brutal torture of young girl accused of sorcery

Updated 1 December 2017, 7:45 AEDT

The torture of a six-year-old girl whose mother was accused of practising sorcery will be investigated by a special police taskforce, the Papua New Guinea Government says.

Key points:

  • Unclear why sorcery-related violence escalating
  • Government announces $4m funding for education programs
  • National action plan yet to be fully implemented

The young girl who was brutally tortured last month was one of many victims of a recent spate of attacks on people — usually women — accused of practising black magic in PNG.

Police and charities working to stop this type of violence say they are baffled and appalled by its increasing frequency and are begging for a national response.

Police Minister Jelta Wong said a special taskforce would investigate the torture of the young girl.

"We're putting a taskforce together and we're going after these people," she said.

"Once you do the sorcery and you start killing people and burning people, you're breaking the law.

"We're focusing on the sorcery because it's inhumane. We can't let these animals get away with this."

Sorcery-related violence soars

No-one really understands why such attacks on vulnerable people are escalating.

Senior policeman Epenes Nili is dealing with a spike in such attacks in his home province of Enga, in the PNG highlands.

"I am 47 years old, from birth until now I have never heard of anything [like] so-called sorcery," he said.

"It just popped up in 2016 I believe.

"It is now transferring out like wildfire."

It is common to assume the attacks occur because superstition is deeply rooted in PNG culture, and many Papua New Guineans believe sorcery is real.

WARNING: The following video contains graphic content.

But Acting Superintendent Nili said that was not true and everyone had to fight against the phenomenon.

"This is just a pack of lies," he said.

"There is no such thing as sorcery. I have never heard of it."

Up to 30 women attacked since mid-September

Lutheran missionary Anton Lutz, who grew up and still works in Enga Province, said he had seen an alarming escalation of violence in the past three months.

"Up to 30 women who have been attacked since Independence [Day] in mid-September, just in the district I know and where I grew up," he said.

"My dad was a surgeon there for 23 years and we've been here in the country for the last 30 years and we never saw this stuff."

Mr Lutz is often called to villages where people have been tortured, and said the perpetrators were remarkably frank about the violence they had just committed.

"They open up amazingly and tell me all about the accusations that led to the violence, all about the violence, what happened, where the body is if there's a body and what's happened to the survivor," he said.

"So yeah, they're just very open about what they've done and it's just horrific to see what they've done to someone and then look them in the eye and explain why they thought that was OK."

Mr Lutz was part of efforts to rescue the six-year-old girl who was being tortured last month.

National plan yet to be fully funded

The young girl's mother was killed in horrific circumstances in 2013, in a case that led the Government to hold a national day of action against sorcery-related violence.

That led to a national action plan, but it is yet to be fully funded and implemented.

Ruth Kissam, from the PNG Tribal Foundation, a charity trying to stop the spread of violence and work with its victims, welcomed the plan.

"This amazing plan, which could easily be rolled out into the provinces, is just sitting there idle, and that needs to be funded," she said.

But Ms Kissam said the biggest problem was that the perpetrators of this violence were never arrested, adding there was no action taken on the horrific cases that were brought to her attention.

"They gave me the body of a headless woman," she said.

"She was killed and no-one wanted to talk about it.

"Women are killed on a weekly basis. Families are displaced internally.

"We have a refugee crisis going on right now in the country as I'm speaking.

"Tribes, clans are being displaced off their traditional land because of accusation-based violence."

The PNG Government has promised to tackle the problem, and has just announced $4 million of funding in next year's budget for awareness and education programs.

The national counselling helpline's number for callers within Papua New Guinea is 715-08000.