Papua New Guinea - A diverse people and landscape
Children in Papua New Guinea live in a country of great diversity and immense geographical challenges. Papua New Guinea is widely dispersed, with a land mass of over 450,000 square kilometers spread over rugged mountain terrain and one million square kilometers of sea. Papua New Guinea is geographically one of the largest countries in the Pacific and has over 800 ethnic groups with more than 800 distinct languages.
Almost 85 per cent of the country’s approximately 7 million people live in remote highland areas and far flung islands. These areas remain difficult and costly to provide services in. Natural disasters occur frequently and often lead to significant loss of lives, displacement of families, destruction of crops, property and livelihoods, and disruption of social services, such as health and education. Several low lying islands are also experiencing the effects of global warming and rising sea levels. Despite these challenges, the Papua New Guinean people have developed a strong survival strategy; the practice of living in sound, cohesive social units in which connections with others are of paramount importance. Traditional social values of kinship, extended family linkages and other connections outweigh individual orientation, even in modern society.
Political and Judicial Setting
Since independence in 1975, the country has been plagued by frequent – albeit democratic – changes of government, conflict related civil crises and insecurity. The decade long Bougainville crisis was abated by a United Nations brokered peace process, which paved the way for provincial autonomy in 2005.
The Papua New Guinea Constitution sets out most of the basic rights, principles of equity and development goals encompassed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is supported by a comprehensive set of legislation to give people access to these rights and goals. The Constitution and legislation, however, are not always invoked to assist or protect children, youth and women or to achieve MDGs.
Law and order is a significant problem with crime against persons and property crime occurring frequently in both rural and urban settings. Lack of confidence in the formal justice system encourages traditional methods of resolving disputes such as ‘payback’, which can take many forms, ranging from demands for compensation to property damage, rape or even murder. Poor law and order has severe implications for the psychological development of children in Papua New Guinea and their right to grow up in a safe and secure environment.
National Economy and living standards
Although agriculture provides a subsistence livelihood for 85 per cent of the population, Papua New Guinea also has an abundance of natural resources. Gross Domestic Product, while having risen from its 2007 level of 6.26 per cent to 7.2 per cent in 2008, is forecast to be 4.5 per cent in 2009. Despite economic growth, many citizens of Papua New Guinea still experience low standards of living, inadequate access to essential services and little opportunity to participate in the cash economy. Rapid population growth and concentration of economic activity and wealth in the mining and export sectors is sustaining and widening the gap between rich and poor.
Papua New Guinea at a Glance