By BARNABAS ORERE PONDROS
THERE is firm intelligence that foreign paedophiles are running a child procurement network in Papua New Guinea to satisfy their devious sexual desires.
Vulnerable and underage children living in villages and settlements are their primary targets.
Customs Commissioner Gary Juffa told The National that some foreigners were entering the country under the guise of being volunteers, church workers, charity workers and teachers, among others, gaining the community’s confidence and then eventually plying their trade.
“Strong intelligence suggests that paedophiles could enter PNG in greater numbers as it becomes more known that it is easier to acquire children for sex, especially in settlements and remote locations where such activities are unheard of,” he said.
This striking revelation follows news reports last week in The Australian newspaper that an Australian foreign aid worker under police investigation in PNG for allegedly fondling and photographing naked girls has found refuge in North Queensland, beyond the reach of law in either country.
Mr Juffa said the foreign paedophiles are flooding into PNG and other Pacific countries because of the non-existing or lax laws in the region.
“Currently our laws are outdated, too weak and do not provide avenues for justice to victims. I intend to push for change,” he said.
Paedophiles often prefer to target children close to puberty who are sexually inexperienced but curious about sex, and particularly children who come from troubled or underprivileged homes.
“These paedophiles lure the children through gifts, tempting them with promises of a better life and money but in the end they abuse the innocent child,” he added.
Parents and communities often turn a blind eye because of the harsh living conditions and they are preoccupied with making ends meet.
Mr Juffa raised concern that State agencies “tasked with investigations to prevent this type of activities are becoming increasingly frustrated”.
This is because when such matters go to court, the suspects are “let off, given minimal sentences or granted bail”.
The concern is that foreign paedophiles will continue perpetrating sexual crimes against children if there is breathing space.
“These are serious matters, serious offences and serious issues that we are talking about and we need to be serious, and attend to it with energy and vigour,” Mr Juffa said.
All law enforcement agencies, concerned stakeholders, including the media, should step up and help curb this growing threat, he said.
“We need to attend to it with necessary aggression to protect the interest of our people, our community and our children. Sadly this is not happening,” Mr Juffa said.
He said that Customs has stepped up its efforts to identify and refer suspected paedophiles by increasing its intelligence gathering.
“The idea is to develop awareness and collaborate with other agencies, however we require increased funding,” he said.