Papua New Guinea ‘among world’s worst places’ for women

In this Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013 photo, bystanders watch as a woman accused of witchcraft is burned alive in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea. (AP)

Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a woman, with domestic violence widespread and perpetrators rarely charged, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

The rights group said police were “very rarely prepared” to pursue criminal investigations in cases of domestic violence, even when they involved attempted murder or repeated rape.

“PNG is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman or a girl, with an estimated 70 percent of women experiencing rape or assault in their lifetime,” the group said in the PNG section of its annual report.

“While such acts have long been criminalized and domestic violence was specifically proscribed under the 2013 Family Protection Act, few perpetrators are brought to justice.”

The rights group said police also often demanded payment “for fuel” from victims before taking action, or simply ignored cases in the nation where it said some 40 percent of the population live in poverty.

Those attacked after being accused of sorcery or witchcraft were often female, it added.

“Reports continue of violent mobs attacking individuals accused of ‘sorcery’ or ‘witchcraft’,” it said.

“Sorcery accusations are often accompanied by brutal attacks, including burning of homes, assault, and sometimes murder.”

There is a widespread belief in sorcery in the nation where many people do not accept natural causes as an explanation for misfortune, illness, accidents or death.

HRW urged the PNG government to do more to ensure that victims of domestic violence were afforded justice and appropriate services.

“Papua New Guinea is failing to meet its obligations under international law to protect women and girls from discrimination and family violence,” said HRW Asia director Brad Adams.

HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson added: “PNG really is a world leader in this abysmal department.”

The rights group said other pressing issues in PNG included gender inequality, violence, corruption, and excessive use of force by police.

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