Sorcery-related violence is widespread in Melanesia. In Papua New Guinea (PNG) it can take a particularly savage form. In the Highlands Region witch-hunts occur in almost every province. Belief in 'sanguma' (witches) or 'puri-puri' (black magic) is widespread and cases of unexpected death in a village often lead to residents accusing local women, often relatives of the deceased, of sorcery. The accused are usually tortured to extract a confession and then killed or maimed. While the notion of sorcery is rooted in pre-Christian beliefs, people sometimes use accusations of sorcery as acts of revenge or to settle scores in small communities. Under-resourced and often outnumbered local police officers claim to be unable to stop the killings in remote communities. Yet the criminal code, which until recently contained the so-called 'Sorcery Act' that offered reduced sentences for plaintiff claiming to be acting against sorcery has been blamed for the brutal practice. The torture involves cutting and maiming with machetes and axes and branding with hot metal implements. The public 'punishments' often involve decapitation and burning the victim alive. Those who survive the ordeal are usually banished from the community permanently.
Though the practice is well known and widespread, the authorities do not have a programme in place to shelter women accused of sorcery and work with those who are mentally scarred by the experience. Few cases of sorcery-related murder are brought to court and police officers have been known to participate in 'witch hunts' themselves.
In 2013, the PNG government repealed the controversial 'Sorcery Act' and made sorcery related violence a punishable crime. The number of cases appears to still be rising, despite the new legislation.