Papua New Guinea (PNG) will start to establish support centers and safe houses across the country for victims of family and sexual violence, in what government representatives, health and aid workers say is an “unprecedented” recognition of the battle against the shockingly high levels of abuse.
The Pacific nation is routinely singled out as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for family and sexual violence, which has been described as an epidemic affecting both women and young children.
Recent studies have found that rape was the first experience of sex for one in five women, and one in three men had been sexually abused as children.
A study by NGO ChildFund Australia found that more than half of rape victims who presented to hospital were under 16 and one in four was under 12.
A two-day conference in Port Moresby held by the PNG Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), and the National Department of Health aimed to improve medical, social and clinical support for victims in parts of the country lacking services. It was attended by PNG government ministers and representatives of the EU and AusAID.
The national coordinator at the action committee and chair of the conference, Ume Wainetti, said the conference, which included delegates from 11 PNG provinces, was breaking new ground.
“The action plans that we have developed … are a real step forward and an unprecedented recognition of the urgency of responding to this crisis,” she said in a statement.
The delegates vowed to establish the centers in hospitals across their provinces as well as set up safe houses.
“Their passion and commitment was so visible and so tangible,” MSF head of mission Paul Brockmann said.
“That’s never happened in PNG before. Often in my 20 months here I’ve felt like we’re pushing the message that this is a public health emergency so [you need to] respond to it as one,” he said.
While PNG government officials pledged support, Brockmann said it was essentially up to the the provinces to take control.
“One thing we hear from the national government frequently is that it’s not a problem of availability of money. It’s a problem of making sure the money gets to the right place,” Brockmann said. “Even in a meeting I attended with the secretary of health last month, he said the money’s there, it’s just not getting into the program that it needs to get into. In the end I do think PNG provinces have a lot of responsibility for implementing.”
PORT MORESBY CENTER
The first center to offer both medical and psychological treatment opened in Port Moresby in May. It is among a number of centers MSF sets up or supports in the capital and the towns of Lae and Tari.
MSF will monitor the work undertaken by the delegations and will check back in a year to ensure promises have been fulfilled, Brockmann said.
“I know that a conference doesn’t necessarily mean a reality of a change, but I do think it will start to change,” he said.