PAPUA NEW GUINEA – A recent report produced by ChildFund, an Australian-based international development organization, highlights the deplorable state of family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Using existing research and ChildFund case studies carried out in the Rigo District in the Central Province, the report contains staggering statistics.
The report determines that violence occurs in two-thirds of PNG families. Studies cited in the report indicate that half of all women in PNG would be raped in their lifetime, and half of women who seek medical assistance after rape are younger than 16. In the case study carried out by ChildFund, none of the 37 women interviewed claimed to not have violence in their household. There are no official government figures of sexual or domestic violence in Papua New Guinea. Abuse often involves knives, machetes, and other tools that take it to extreme levels of mutilation.
While domestic abuse is prohibited by law, few cases come to trial. Many women, and men, are unaware that domestic and sexual violence is illegal. When women are made aware of their legal rights, the scarcity of courts and medical access makes it difficult for them to pursue charges.
Violence and sexual abuse are generally considered a norm in PNG. Many men consider it a natural right and do not realize that it is wrong. Women may even see the abuse as a sign of love and affection when committed by an intimate partner.
Thirty-seven percent of the population of Papua New Guinea exists below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest countries in the Pacific. Life expectancy is only 63 years. Papua New Guinea ranks 156 out of 186 on the United National Development Program (UNDP) Human Development Index, and 134 out of 148 on the Gender Inequality Index.
The mission of Medecins Sans Frontieres’ (MSF), an international development organization that provides health care, in PNG includes providing medical treatment for victims of sexual and domestic abuse. Operating in the country since 1992, MSF personnel also provide counseling for survivors. In 2012, MSF treated 6,500 victims in their family support center located at the Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae, Papua New Guinea’s second largest city. MSF also provides emergency medical care in Tari, in the Southern Highlands. The organization has labeled the sexual and domestic abuse in Papua New Guinea a “humanitarian crisis.”
Based on the findings of their recent report, ChildFund has launched a new program in PNG designed to combat sexual and domestic violence. ChildFund will initiate education programs for both men and women. The program will seek to educate men and boys to communicate without the use of violence.
Education programs will also reach out to women to inform them of their rights under the law and their access to medical and counseling services. ChildFund will also set up a mobile clinic in order to reach rural women. The clinic will provide medical and counseling services and provide the medical certificates required to prosecute perpetrators. The ChildFund hotline will help women find a local clinic as well as counseling services.
– Callie D. Coleman