|© UNICEF video|
|Margaret Yom and Anne Aina of the Morata Four City Community Group, a UNICEF supported organization that helps victims of domestic violence, with Sergeant Katrina Deakin, of the Community Policing Unit.|
By Shantha Bloemen
PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea, 20 January 2006 – UNICEF estimates that around 1 million children in Papua New Guinea live with violence, either at home or in their community. Many of the country’s women are victims of domestic abuse. But their cry for justice often falls on deaf ears: Among Papua New Guinea’s more than 800 tribes and languages, the concepts of domestic and sexual violence do not exist.
Rhonda lost her youngest daughter barely two months ago. “My baby had a cough and a fever. The doctor told me she was very sick and admitted us to the hospital,” said Rhonda. “For two weeks and two days my husband did not come to see us.”
When he finally came, he lured Rhonda home, saying there was food there for their ailing baby. Rhonda believed him. When she arrived home, she was raped by her husband. When she finally returned to the hospital many hours later, her baby had died.
“When my daughter died, I knew he was a cruel man and I can’t forgive him for this. For 5 years I have been a victim of violence,” said Rhonda.
In Papua New Guinea, what Rhonda experienced is far too common. Violence against women and children is a major issue in the country. To make matters worse, much of the country’s population has very little knowledge about the true nature of domestic violence.
|© UNICEF video|
|A volunteer with a group of young children at the day care centre operated by the Morata Four City Community Group. This is one of many activities run by the group.|
“Unless the community knows this is a crime, then the situation will not improve,” says Sergeant Katrina Deakin of the Community Policing Unit, in Port Moresby, the capital. “We really need to disseminate more information to the community and make sure that people know their rights.”
To help those who fall victim to such crimes, the Papua New Guinea Government has started setting up protection centres which will provide shelter for women and children.
Seeking refuge at the Family Support Centre in Port Moresby’s General Hospital, Rhonda is still mourning the loss of her baby daughter. “I am happy that I know the social workers – they know human rights and women’s rights. I am just very happy. They provide me with food and some counselling as well,” said Rhonda.
Fed up with the daily brutality, women in many communities have taken matters into their own hands. Refusing to be victims any longer, the women have organized groups to protect and empower themselves.
Anne Aina is a mother of two and lives in Morata, a poor settlement in the capital. A victim of domestic violence, she turned to the police countless times for help, and received nothing in return. Finally, she took advice and assistance from Sergeant Deakin and together with others formed a women’s policing group.
The group built a safe house where women and children can come at any time. The space is fully equipped with mattresses and toys for children, thanks to support from UNICEF and partners. When a woman comes to the safe house, a bell is rung. Upon hearing the bell, other women from the community then bring whatever food or money they can spare.
Members of the women’s community policing group now have their own blue uniforms, to acknowledge their status and role. They have started to shed their fears of men, and have initiated many other community projects, including a day care centre for children and awareness campaigns on child abuse and HIV/AIDS.
“Sometimes a husband comes to the safe house wanting his wife to return. I just go outside and tell him your wife is staying here and to leave her in peace,” said Anne Aina. “A day or two later I take the wife back to the home and help them talk through their problems. Often the women are afraid to go back to their husbands, but we make sure to go and visit them on a regular basis so that the situation does not get worse.”
Sergeant Deakin believes that building stronger partnerships between communities and police can better protect women and children. She and women’s groups like the one in Morata are pushing for more community policing. Those who will benefit include women and children, and also the police forces, which are often woefully under-skilled and lack the resources to deal with domestic violence.
By combining the efforts of both the government and local communities, Papua New Guinea is beginning to deal with the issues of domestic violence. But until all communities within the nation’s hundreds of tribes realize the nature of these crimes, the safety and dignity of women and children are still at risk.
“We need to educate children in schools to have non-violent lives and learn to respect people of other communities,” says Isiye Ndombi, UNICEF Representative in Papua New Guinea. “All these are part of a larger approach that needs to involve working with communities to build and see how we can reinforce the rule of law and respect each other’s rights.”
8 February 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on how initiatives like the UNICEF supported community policing group are helping address issues of domestic violence in Papua New Guinea.