Girl tortured in PNG

PORT MORESBY (NEWS.COM.AU) – A six-year-old girl in Papua New Guinea accused of witchcraft and slowly tortured over five days by a mob narrowly escaped death last week following a rescue mounted by members of a local charity and Chilean missionary.

The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, sustained first-degree burns to most of her body from machetes heated by fire used to peel away her skin and flesh, according to Gary Bustin of the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation — the charity that planned and executed the rescue mission with Lutheran missionary Anton Lutz.

“The child was in the village when she was attacked,” Mr Bustin told news.com.au. “As you can imagine she has been traumatised and will only be seeing family and medical staff.”

Despite centuries of efforts by educators and church groups to eradicate it, belief in witchcraft, sorcery or ‘sanguma’ as it is called in the impoverished South Pacific nation remains hardwired in the national psyche.

“There are more than 800 different cultures in PNG and belief in sorcery is pervasive across most of them,” said Richard Eves, an Australian anthropologist from the Australian National University in Canberra.

Sorcery-related killings in which angry mobs turn on a scapegoat after an unexplained death or illness like HIV/AIDS are not uncommon in PNG

According to rescuer Mr Lutz, six women have been killed after being accused of witchcraft in Enga Province in central PNG in the past two months alone. Reports from other parts of the country describe victims being beheaded, pushed off cliffs, electrocuted, stoned, shot or, in worst-case scenarios, burnt alive.

The girl tortured last week in Enga Province is the daughter of Leniata Kepari, a 20-year-old woman from the city of Mt Hagen who was accused of witchcraft and abducted by a mob in 2013 after the sudden unexplained death of a child.

The mob stripped her naked, cut and sexually penetrated her with machetes while hundreds of people looked on. The mob then tossed Ms Kepari on a pile of tyres and set her on fire.

“The girl was accompanied by her father to Tukusanda Village when rumours of sanguma started going around,” Enga acting provincial police commander Epenes Nili told online news portal Loop PNG. “And because her mother was the late Leniata Kepari, who was burnt alive in 2013 in Mt Hagen due to sorcery accusations, all eyes fell on the little girl.”

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