Witch burnings in Papua New Guinea

// 28 August 2007

The Independent reports on the ignorance of HIV in Papua New Guinea, which has led to victims being buried alive for fear of them passing on the virus. In the absence of accurate information, HIV is being attributed to witchcraft:

Women in PNG, where many people retain ancient beliefs in the supernatural, have reportedly been blamed for causing the disease. Mobs have attacked women believed to be witches, and tortured or murdered them. According to some reports, 500 such attacks have been carried out in the past year.

A recent report by an Australian think-tank, the Centre for Independent Studies, found that “sorcery, witchcraft and other supernatural forces” were widely blamed for the disease in PNG.

The report said: “The mysterious deaths of relatively young people, thought to be deaths from HIV/Aids, are being blamed on women practising witchcraft … Women have been beaten, stabbed, cut with knives, sexually assaulted and burnt with hot irons.” In one recent incident, two suspected witches were tortured and set on fire.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, women are four times more likely to contract HIV in the first place:

Oxfam New Zealand, which is active in the country, says that extreme poverty, sexual violence, gender inequality and ignorance about the disease, combined with limited health services, are fuelling the spread of the virus. Women are at four times greater risk of contracting it, Oxfam says, “because their social standing does not allow them to negotiate safe sex”.

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