Papua New Guinea

Last Updated 2 December 2021

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is located on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea. The country was divided between Germany and the UK in 1885 and became independent in 1976.1,the%20southern%20regions%20%27Papua%27.

PNG has a functioning democracy. Elections are regularly held despite some irregularities and violence. The judiciary enjoys independence, and the media are mostly free.2 PNG is a highly diverse and tribal country, there are more than 800 indigenous languages spoken across the entire population.3

The population is estimated to be 7.3 millions, 98% of citizens identified as Christian in the 2011 census, many integrate Christian faith with indigenous beliefs and practices.4 The country has a small minority of approximately 60,500 Baháʼí, 800 Jews, and 5,500 Muslims.5

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Constitution and judiciary

The preamble of the Papua New Guinea Constitution6 points to Christian principles, however, there is formally no state religion.7

Article 45 of the Constitution provides the individual the right to “freedom of conscience, thought, and religion”:
“1. Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, thought and religion and the practice of his religion and beliefs, including freedom to manifest and propagate his religion and beliefs in such a way as not to interfere with the freedom of others, except to the extent that the exercise of that right is regulated or restricted by a law that complies with Section 38 (general qualifications on qualified rights).
2. No person shall be compelled to receive religious instruction or to take part in a religious ceremony or observance, but this does not apply to the giving of religious instruction to a child with the consent of his parent or guardian or to the inclusion in a course of study of secular instruction concerning any religion or belief.
3. No person is entitled to intervene unsolicited into the religious affairs of a person of a different belief, or to attempt to force his or any religion (or irreligion) on another, by harassment or otherwise.
4. No person may be compelled to take an oath that is contrary to his religion or belief, or to take an oath in a manner or form that is contrary to his religion or belief.
5. A reference in this section to religion includes a reference to the traditional religious beliefs and customs of the peoples of Papua New Guinea.”8

The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, including “life, liberty, security of the person and the protection of the law” and “freedom from inhuman treatment”. The preamble and Article 559 guarantee equal rights and privileges irrespective of race, political opinion, colour, or sex, but does not include sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs called for amendments to the aforementioned texts and called for legislation to prohibit discrimination in education, employment or housing.10, para. 17-18

Governments have throughout the years attempted to exert political pressure on the court system, however the judiciary is generally independent.11 Also higher courts have demonstrated their impartiality by ruling against the government. An apolitical Judicial and Legal Services Commission appointed judges, they can not be removed arbitrarily.12

Customary law, and courts

There is a network of village courts that handle personal disputes using traditional law and justice. Although they are not meant to handle serious or criminal cases, village courts may provide critical and timely services and defuse local conflicts.13, para. 13 Customary justice tends to uphold the values of the societies in which they are embedded, giving way to judgments that are not always human rights-compliant.14, para. 13

State and church

The National Executive Council, the country’s national cabinet, approved a constitutional amendment in August 2020, declaring the country a Christian nation, the amendment is still to be ratified.15 Civil society, political and Christian groups objected to the proposed amendment.16 Declaring the country a Christian nation would affect Article 45 guaranteeing freedom of “freedom of conscience, thought, and religion”.17;

Between 2012 and 2016, there were discussions approved by parliament regarding the issue of whether to ‘prohibit the worship of non-Christian faiths’; the Constitutional Review commission halted a parliamentary proposal on the grounds that such a ban would be in violation of religious freedom.18;;;

Parliament sessions and most government meetings begin and end with Christian prayers.19 According to senior government officials, public servants were instructed to attend weekly morning devotion sessions led by Pastors from different Christian denominations.20

Individual members of parliament continue to provide grants from public funds to religious institutions in their constituencies to carry out religious activities. Nearly all of these institutions were Christian.21 In August 2020, Prime Minister Marape announced his government would pass a law requiring that 10% of the country’s export earnings go to fund the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches but did not set a timeframe for passage.22 The Church Partnership database, announced in 2018 by the Department for Community Development and Religion (DfCDR) with the stated goal of providing more support to churches, continued to be non-operational at year’s end because technical issues made it inaccessible to the public, according to a statement from a DfCDR official.23

Foreign missionaries and workers sponsored by a religious group in the country receive a three-year special visa exemption from the government.24

Education and children’s rights

Religious education is designated one hour per week in public schools. It is not compulsory, but relies on an opt-out system that requires the approval of the school principal. Reports show that most students attend, and therefore opting out can lead to societal discrimination and stigma.[ Classes are currently taught by representatives from Christian churches with no standard curriculum. The Department of Education is developing a Christian Values Education syllabus. Christian life studies will be taught by teachers and made a compulsory subject in all elementary and secondary schools.25

Religious organizations can establish private schools and may choose to only accept students who attend religious education.26

The government provides funds for churches to deliver health and education services. The Papua New Guinea Council of Churches (PNGCC) use public funds and international donations to operate approximately 60% of schools and health services in the country.27 The church-run facilities provided services irrespective of religious affiliation.28

Corporal punishment of children in PNG is lawful in the home, alternative care settings, day care and schools. Article 278 of the Criminal Code 197429 provides for the use of force “by way of correction” by parents and teachers. Article 42 of the Constitution, concerning the treatment of persons arrested or detained, states: “Subject to any other law, nothing in this section applies in respect of any reasonable act of the parent or guardian of a child, or a person into whose care a child has been committed, in the course of the education, discipline or upbringing of the child.”30

NGOs called for legislation to clearly prohibit all corporal punishment of children and repeal Article 278 of the Criminal Code 1974 and Article 42 of the Constitution.31

A quarter of children in the relevant age group are not in school and nearly half of adolescents aged 10–19 years have no formal education.32, para. 30 Only half of the children from the poorest quintile enrolled in school, girls living in extremely remote areas are twice as likely to be out of school than boys.33, para. 30 School attendance has been strongly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half of households with school-age children have indicated reducing the number of children attending school, this may have especially affected girls.34, para. 30

Family, community and society

There has been reports of major traditional churches criticizing newer and smaller belief groups, in addition to anti-Muslim rhetoric in connection with the arrival of Muslim refugees.35

Discrimination Against Women and gender-based violence

Reports show that women face multiple types of discrimination. Legal and social discrimination in employment, and disadvantages in property rights and inheritance, particularly under customary law.36 Allegations of sorcery have been used to target women for violence.37 Entrenched traditional patriarchal customs and cultural norms are used to justify gender-based violence and discrimination.38

Early or forced marriage are societal problems in the country. About two-thirds of partnered women have experienced physical abuse, laws addressing domestic violence are not enforced adequately.39

Reconciliation is traditionally used in PNG to resolve legal cases, and conflicts between groups to maintain peace. Monetary compensation is the predominant method of settling problems. While customary law is subordinate to the Constitution, which recognizes the equality of all, customary law is still relied upon at the Village Court level.40, para. 7-8 Section 19 of the Criminal Code Act 1974 gives judges an “unfettered discretion” to impose lesser sentences with no minimum sentencing requirement. National Courts frequently take into consideration whether compensation was paid or reconciliation has taken place in sexual assault and domestic violence cases, which is a form of gender discrimination in gender-based violence cases.41, para. 7-8 Resolutions are reached without involving the victim, and by compensating the victim’s family, usually its male leaders.42, para. 7-8 This can leave women doubly wronged, firstly by the initial assault and secondly when they do not receive compensation, but a male relative does.43, para. 7-8

Provocation can be a factor that sways judges to minimize the sentence. Women are discriminated against due to judges sympathizing with men and the factors that could, in the traditional context, falsely justify their crimes, for example, if women are being disobedient or offend the honor of the man.44, para. 11-12

Sorcery, Witch hunts, and related violence

Sorcery Accusation Related Violence (SARV) is a significant issue in PNG. Anton Lutz, a missionary in the country stated: “Papua New Guinean’s ideas about “sanguma” [black magic or witchcraft] and sorcery are regionally diverse, logically contradictory, change over time, and spread to new places and people where they mix with pre-existing beliefs. And they are used to justify illegal violence against vulnerable people”.45, para. 11

The country repealed the 1971 Sorcery Act46 in 2013 after international pressure; the colonial-era legislation sought “to prevent and punish evil practices of sorcery and other similar evil practices.”47;;[/ref]

SARV continues to regularly endanger the lives of individuals after being accused of practising sorcery. Victims are either killed in some regions, or beaten and burned in others.[ref], para. 12;
The victim’s first-born children are also killed due to the belief that sorcery is passed down to them.48, para. 12; Such violence rarely gets reported.49, para. 12;

The European Centre for Law and Justice noted in the 2021 Universal Public Review process that it was critical for PNG to take immediate action to put an end to SARV.50, para. 17 ECL pointed out that awareness and education campaigns about SARV were necessary, so that the public is educated about the practice and encouraged to report incidents.51, para. 17 In addition, it is critical that the government provide aid and assistance for the victims of SARV-related attacks. Additional training and resources for law enforcement were also critical to ensure that all cases go reported and are thoroughly investigated.52, para. 33


Abortion or the assistance in procuring the procedure is illegal and carries a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.
According to the Criminal Code:

(1) A person who, with intent to procure the miscarriage of a woman, whether or not she is pregnant, unlawfully administers to her or causes her to take any poison or other noxious thing or uses force or any other means, is guilty of a crime.
Penalty: Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.
(2) A woman who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, whether or not she is pregnant– (a) unlawfully administers to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or uses force or any other means; or (b) permits any such thing or means to be administered or used to her, is guilty of a crime.
Penalty: Imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.

226. SUPPLYING DRUGS OR INSTRUMENTS TO PROCURE ABORTION. A person who unlawfully supplies to or procures for any person any thing, knowing that it is intended to be unlawfully used to procure the miscarriage of a woman, whether or not she is pregnant, is guilty of a misdemeanour. Penalty: Imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years.”53

Discrimination against LGBTI+ individuals

The discrimination faced by the LGBTI+ community is highly pronounced, individuals experience violence, blackmail, beatings, and killings.54, para. 6 Same-sex sexual relations are a criminal offense that can be penalized for up to 14 years in prison, though the relevant laws are rarely enforced.55;;, para. 39 Studies and reports show that the police are one of the main sources of violence and discrimination against gay and transgender individuals.56, item 5

Article 210 of the Criminal Code reads:

(1) 63 64A person who– (a) sexually penetrates any person against the order of nature; or (b) sexually penetrates an animal; or (c) permits a male person to sexually penetrates him or her against the order of nature, is guilty of a crime.
Penalty: Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years.
(2) A person who attempts to commit an offence against Subsection (1) is guilty of a crime. Penalty: imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.”57

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Blasphemy laws

PNG has multiple laws outlawing publications and material that may be deemed blasphemous, however, no cases have been documented.58; The Classification of Publication (Censorship) Act 1989 defines an “objectionable publication” as one which inter alia depicts “matters of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, blasphemy, immorality, violence or revolting or abhorrent phenomena in a manner that is likely to be offensive to a reasonable adult person and is undesirable in the interest of the public”.59;

Press and online freedoms

Reports show that freedom of the press is generally respected. Local media operate independently in their coverage of political issues, and governmental issues such as police abuse and corruption. However, journalists repeatedly face harassment over negative content toward politicians.60 Journalists in some cases face physical attacks while performing their work.61 The media outlets are limited and access to communication tools, including the Internet, is lacking.62, para. 24

A cybercrime law passed in 2016 opening for the persecution of individuals for defamatory expressions or inciting violence on social media, such laws are known to be misused to limit the freedom of expression.63 NGOs urged an amendment to decriminalize online defamation in the Cybercrime Act to ensure that it is in line with ICCPR Article 19 and international law and standards in the area of freedom of expression.64, para. 42;, para. 23


2, 11, 12, 35, 36, 37, 39, 60, 61, 63
4, 5, 7, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28
6, 8, 9
10, para. 17-18
13, 14, para. 13
29, 53, 57
32, 33, 34, para. 30
40, 41, 42, 43, para. 7-8
44, para. 11-12
45, para. 11

SARV continues to regularly endanger the lives of individuals after being accused of practising sorcery. Victims are either killed in some regions, or beaten and burned in others.[ref], para. 12;

48, 49, para. 12;
50, 51, para. 17
52, para. 33
54, para. 6
55;;, para. 39
56, item 5
58, 59;
62, para. 24
64, para. 42;, para. 23

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