© UNICEF, 2008, Khoi Cao-Lam
Children in Papua New Guinea remain some of the most vulnerable children in the world. Many suffer from domestic violence or are victims of sexual assault, while common cultural practices, such as marrying under customary law from 12 years of age, have increased the likelihood of the commercial exploitation of children, particularly young girls in sex work. Papua New Guinea’s HIV epidemic is leaving many children particularly vulnerable - children who are affected by HIV are more likely to be orphaned, drop out of school, live in child-headed households and experience stigmatization and discrimination
Addressing violence against children is UNICEF’s priority and is an initiative that must be supported as children’s welfare and chances of survival are at stake. The UNICEF Child Protection Programme supports national, provincial and district level efforts by Government, civil society and village leaders to protect children vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation.
Child Abuse/Family Violence
Family violence and sexual assault rates in PNG are among the highest in the world. Approximately 40-75 per cent of children experience violence in their homes.
Commercial sexual exploitation of children
Up to 50 per cent of girls are at risk of becoming involved in sex work, or being internally trafficked. One in three sex workers are under 20 years of age. Accelerated urbanization, the expansion of resource sites and the introduction of a cash economy appear to be increasing the risk.
Children who come into conflict with the law are suffering violence and being denied their basic rights. Up to 75 per cent of children in conflict with the law are beaten by police. This includes ‘panel beating’, the colloquial term used to describe severe physical assault, rape and other forms of sexual abuse, torture and extra-judicial shootings. Juveniles are often detained in inhumane conditions, at times with adults in police cells, and remand is over-used by police.
Rights based customary courts
Village courts allow communities to settle disputes in a way that is more in line with their traditional systems and values than with children’s and women’s rights. These customary courts need to be equipped with the knowledge and training to make sure outcomes are rights based and protect children.
UNICEF in Action
Social Protection and Violence Prevention
• The most significant achievement for children in Papua New Guinea was the passing of the Lukautim Pikinini (Child Protection) Act (LPA) in 2007, a stronger version of which was passed in 2009. This contemporary, rights-based legislation focuses Government priority on the prevention of child abuse and neglect through the strengthening of community child protection mechanisms. It removes previously discriminatory provisions relating to children born outside of marriage and articulates that the violation of child rights (including the right to education) can now be considered a child protection risk that warrants a statutory response.
UNICEF worked closely with the Minister and Department for Community Development over the last three years to ensure this Act was passed, and continues to support its distribution and implementation.
• Five hospital based Family Support Centers for survivors of violence and abuse are now operational, providing an estimated 8,000 women and children annually with a “one stop shop” service of medial, legal, psychosocial and case management support.
• The National Department of Health has instructed all hospitals to employ social workers to eliminate fees for women and children in need of medical treatment as a result of violence.
Legal Protection and Justice for Children
• UNICEF continues to provide technical support to the Government in their effort to strengthen the juvenile justice system. A UNICEF supported annual review reported a 49 per cent diversion rate for children in conflict with the law over 2007 and 2008, a figure which continues to remain stable.
• UNICEF continues to support the Government on the implementation of the Police Protocols on Juvenile Justice and the efforts of the monitoring unit to conduct regular cell inspections.
Cultural practice and behavioral change
• 200,000 women and children are now able to access customary courts with the skills and knowledge to make rights-based decisions about child protection issues, an increase of 32,600 since 2008.
These activities will translate to reduce suffering among children and women and increase children's ability to access prevention and intervention support that will allow them to exercise all of their rights, including increasing their health and education outcomes.