PNG has highest child mortality rate in the Pacific


BY now, many will have heard of the horrific torture of a little six-year-old girl in Enga Province two weeks ago – how a group of men, accusing the child of sorcery, burned her with hot knives to force her to admit to their accusation.
These were the same people who had previously, in 2013, accused her mother of the same thing and – stripping her naked with only a gag in her mouth – burned her to her death at a dumpsite in Mt Hagen.
Not many people would know of another case involving another six-year-old, a boy; this time in Lae, Morobe, who was hospitalised last month and still trying to recover from extensive injuries to his anus and rectum after a fellow villager sodomised him. The rape was so severe, the kid is having trouble passing waste from his body while the trauma on him, now and later in his life if he lives, is something only he will have to live with.
Little known too is the incident of two little sisters aged 12 and 10, who were kidnapped with the help of a female relative in 2016 from their settlement home in Lae, placed on a boat, and transported down to Oro where they were turned into sex slaves for a medical worker in Popondetta. The girls were not found until toward the middle of 2017 – totally traumatised and needing professional help.
Torture, sexual violence, assault, forced marriage, emotional abuse, neglect, and lately human trafficking – all set against a backdrop of debilitating poverty in many areas, the country’s high child mortality rate (the highest in the Pacific), an education system that forces most children out of school even before they turn 18, drug and alcohol abuse, spiralling lawlessness, many instances of government corruption and years of inaction, and one sees the picture of a very grim situation for the children of Papua New Guinea.
“Together with gender based violence (GBV), this is a state of emergency; an epidemic; it is getting worse by the week – women getting affected, little children getting sexually abused by their own family members. It is very alarming now,” said Ruth Beriso, Manager of NCD Family Sexual Violence Action Committee Secretariat.
“From the data we have been collecting, our statistics are increasing every day. So we are seeing that these cases are getting worse.”
Not until 2009 almost 35 years after Independence, the Government finally made a move to address children’s issues in PNG. It repealed previous outdated and discriminatory laws on children and replaced them with the Lukautim Pikinini Act (LPA).
The LPA is the adoption and application of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, as PNG is a signatory to the convention.
The objective of this Act is “to protect and promote the rights and wellbeing of all children regardless of gender and to protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination, with a clear focus on services for prevention and family strengthening.
It places the “best interests of the child as the paramount consideration and requiring that protective interventions prioritise community based mechanisms over institutional alternatives. It legislates the responsibility of parents to meet the basic rights of children, including equal access to school and removes previously legislated discrimination against children born outside of marriage.”
This means that with the introduction of this stronger, rights-based legislation, a demand for protection for children is placed squarely on the shoulders of authorities including parents.
Amendments were also made to the Criminal Code and the Evidence Act in the area of Sexual Crimes Against Children, toughening them to deal more stringently with criminals who violated children.
“Sexual crimes and crimes against children are very serious because they affect the child badly at the time and also have very long lasting damaging impacts,” said Anna K. Solomon, Secretary of the Department for Community Development.
“The aim of this law is to make sure that every decision made is in the best interest of the child.”
This week, on the occasion of the Universal Children’s Day on Tuesday Nov 20 during the first National Children’s Forum held in Port Moresby, head of the Office of Child & Family Services Simon Yanis lamented the delay in the establishment of councils within local governments supervised by their provincial governments.
As dictated by the LPA, each province is supposed to roll out the implementation of the Act and related policies to make sure children’s rights are being protected right down to the local government level and crimes against them immediately prosecuted.
As of this year, it is now seven years since the enactment of the LPA in 2009 – seven years wasted.
Making an example of National Capital District, Secretary Solomon said the NCD Commission needed to integrate the Child Protection office into its structure and begin dealing with children’s issues in the Nation’s Capital.
“Right now, you do not have any child protection office; just a social services section and a Family Sexual Violence Action Committee that is not the child welfare council as per the law of PNG and therefore not grounded in law,” she said.
Whether the overlapping in the machinery is deliberate or not has not been ascertained, but the NCD FSVAC was also making a verbal submission to Members of Parliament this week to roll out the National GBV Strategy launched in 2016 and start creating their own provincial FSVAC based on the NCD model to address family and gender based issues and violations.
At this point, the NCD is the only district out of the 22 provinces that is vocal and active in pushing GVB/FSV issues.
“We will be telling Parliament that this a state of emergency; that it is a disaster, all provincial governments have to attend to GBV and family sexual violence right now,” said Beriso.
Beriso said each provincial governor must push the agenda of GBV/FSV in their own provinces and not depend on the NCD Governor to continue to be vocal about the issues on his own.
“You cannot rely on Port Moresby alone while the rest of the country does nothing. The child tortured in Enga, for example, should by now have her governor and provincial government out in full force effecting justice and recovery for her,” said Beriso.
That child, named as ‘Justice’ this week to protect her identity, has been rescued and is now recovering from her wounds. These are all largely from the efforts of PNG Tribal Foundation (PNGTF).
PNGTF said the child is doing well and will be placed in a good home and the money donated to her cause spent properly on her care. However, her assailants remain free.
As for the six-year-old boy in Lae, he is still recovering from his wounds. His father has been pursuing the matter diligently in court. The attacker is now behind bars in Buimo prison awaiting the sentencing. Knowing how tough the Criminal Code on sexual crimes against children is, the rapist will be facing life imprisonment at the most.
For the two little sisters, the parents decided to agree with the assailant for monetary compensation.
Secretary Solomon condemned it outright.
“Those parents who are resorting to this kind of justice by accepting compensation, they need to be held accountable. They need to be locked up. Because they are not doing this in the best interest of the child but their own and the perpetrator,” she said.
The Lukautim Pikinini Act is here, and it seems to be a good piece of legislation to protect the rights of the children of Papua New Guinea. But seven years on and it has still not filtered down to the grassroots level.

  • Grace Maribu is a freelance journalist.