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A young girl sits on a canoe in her village in Papua New Guinea.
David Longstreath/AP
Girls & Women

Accusations of Sorcery Lead to Torture of 6 Year-Old Girl

Last week a young girl in Papua New Guinea, thought to be about 6 years old, was reportedly tortured with hot knives after accusations of sorcery and black magic.

The violence occurred near the girl’s home in the remote village of Sirunki in Enga province in PNG's highlands and the perpetrators were members of the local community, according to ABC .

Anton Lutz is a Lutheran missionary who grew up and continues to work in the area. He was part of the team who rescued the young girl, who is now recovering in hospital, and says she was singled out because her mother was Kepari Leniata, a woman accused of sorcery, (or sanguma as it is locally known), and consequently burned alive in 2013.

Read more: ‘Dark Magic’: Why Vulnerable People Are Tortured, Exiled, and Murdered All Over the World

"Part of the urban legend of sanguma, that women are witches, includes the belief that this thing can pass from mother to child," he said. "Of all the children in the village, this one was singled out because of her parentage and they believed she was responsible for bad things happening in the village."

PNG's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill condemned the abuse saying beliefs of sorcery were "absolute rubbish."

"In the modern day sanguma is not a real cultural practice, it is false belief and involves the violent abuse and torture of women and girls by pathetic and perverted individuals," Mr O'Neill said in a statement.

Police Minister Jelta Wong said a special police task force was currently investigating the incident.

But this incident is just one in a recent escalation of similar reports.

According to the ABC, police and charities working in the area are shocked by the increased frequency of such events and are unable to find an explanation for the upsurge.

"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," Lutz told the ABC.

Often the attacks occur after an unexplained death or illness in the communities, as the women are used as scapegoats, accused of sorcery and then tortured, sometimes to death.

"One of the things that people believe about these so-called witches or sanguma is when they're not being tortured they'll lie, and if they are being tortured, they'll tell the truth," Lutz said.

Read more: Tanzanian Court Sentenced Six to Prison for Cutting Off the Hand of Albino Boy

The death of the girl’s mother, Kepari Leniata, was well publicised at the time and led the Government to hold a national day of action against sorcery related violence. The outcome was the development of a national action plan. However the plan is yet to be fully funded or rolled out.

Ruth Kissam, is from a charity trying to stop the violence - the PNG Tribal Foundation. She expressed her frustration at the failure to implement the plan so far.

"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.

Kissam also said one of the major problems is that the perpetrators have never been arrested following the violence.

The PNG Government have promised to take action and recently announced $4 million of funding from next year’s budget will go towards awareness raising and education programs.

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