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FBOs work with Government to address child protection issues

19 August 2010

Eric Waisu was only six years old in 1985 when his mother passed away from a major illness. Her passing left behind a husband and five young children – one teenage daughter and four other children under the age of seven. Eric, the second of five siblings, and his older teenage sister, Hilda were both in school at the time, Eric in grade one and Hilda in grade two. Their mother’s passing dealt a devastating blow to their lives as the family wondered how they would continue to take care of themselves – the youngest son in the family was no more than five or six months old.

As is the cultural practice in most Papua New Guinean societies, Eric’s father wanted his children’s maternal and paternal uncles to informally adopt each of his children to relieve his burden of responsibility. He led a simple subsistence farming lifestyle and with his wife gone, he was concerned his lifestyle was hardly enough to provide for his young family. But his teenage daughter, Hilda, had other things on her mind.

Hilda had seen enough examples in her community of poor care and treatment given to children who were informally adopted and was determined her brothers and sisters would not go through the same experience. She decided it was her responsibility to care for her family and quit school so that she could continue to provide the role of a mother to her younger siblings. “She sacrificed her education to keep our family together, it was a big responsibility,” Eric explains.

 Little did Hilda know that her decision to quit school to keep her family together made her more vulnerable to the risk of becoming HIV positive. Hilda missed out on an opportunity that a continued education would have provided in arming her with the right information and skills to make responsible decisions in relation to sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS and other reproductive health issues. HIV/AIDS knowledge among young people in Papua New Guinea remains poor and national statistics indicate that young people, especially women in the age range of 15 – 14 years show the highest risk of infection.

Twenty five years on and Eric, now a Nursing Officer working at the STI HIV/AIDS clinic in Madang’s Modilon General Hospital gets a little emotional as he shares his story with 20 or so other participants during the conclusion of a week-long training in Madang on a Faith Based Organisation (FBO) training manual.

The FBO training manual is the result of a partnership between UNICEF and the National Government’s Community Development Department to address child protection issues. It is aimed at helping faith based leaders develop skills that will strengthen their work in identifying children in their communities who are vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation, including those children affected by HIV/AIDS. The main objectives of the training are to increase understanding on what makes children vulnerable, increase knowledge and awareness on HIV and AIDS and its impact on children, help FBOs identify vulnerable children and to assist FBOs to develop and implement rights based action plans to support, care for and protect the most vulnerable children in their communities.

Funding support from UNICEF New Zealand enabled the FBO training manual to be developed through extensive consultation with the Government and FBOs at national and sub-national levels, along with considerable input from communities. The Minister for Community Development, Dame Carol Kidu states in her foreword in the manual that FBOs are central to community life in PNG providing leadership, guidance and support to millions of Papua New Guineans, while also delivering services to the most remote parts of the country.

 Eric’s story is not unique. So many children in Papua New Guinea are living in extremely difficult situations every day. Eric is prompted to share his story when the group’s discussion focuses around the need to strike a balance between responsibility and rights particularly in a rural setting. Often the line between responsibility and rights of children in such situations can be a blurred one.

 Workshop coordinator, Conrad Wadunah, of the Madang Provincial AIDS Council (Madang PAC) says it is an important challenge to make people appreciate where responsibility ends and where rights begin. “In most of our rural settings, it is more about responsibility than rights and I think that is where abuse of children comes in. People don’t realise that a girl child is placed in a vulnerable situation or her rights are violated when she gives up her education to look after her family. Responsibilities have limitations,” Conrad stresses.

Trainings like this are important in mobilising and supporting community based responses for the care and protection of vulnerable children. Conrad explains that there are a lot of government and NGO organisations doing various activities around child protection issues but are not necessarily working in partnership with each other. “A training like this brings together all these agencies – church, police, government, education, HIV/AIDS –, and through our different experiences we can form partnerships to address these issues better and in a more coordinated manner,” Conrad says.

John Bomai of the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches who is coordinating the FBOs for these trainings says FBOs are well placed for this type of work because they are everywhere. “We are the link at community levels,” John explains. A positive outcome of these trainings, John adds, is that for the first time FBOs and churches are working together with the government to implement government policies. “We are connecting with the Government and through this kind of work, we will eventually build stronger and better networks, and hopefully, our work will be centrally coordinated. This is something that has not happened yet”, says John.

 Madang is the second province in Papua New Guinea to roll out this training following a Training of Trainers Workshop conducted in Goroka early this year. The training manual takes close to three months to fully implement.

The next step for the Madang participants is to conduct a community survey in their own communities that will help them to understand who the vulnerable children are in their communities. They will  also map existing services/support/resources available in the communities and develop an action plan to address child protection issues. John believes this kind of partnership can make a significant difference and emphasises a need for a central body to closely monitor and evaluate the rights based actions that will be taken by different communities to protect, care for and support vulnerable children. “Only by monitoring and evaluating will we know the success of this program,” says John.

There are many children who are experiencing a life like Eric’s, many more are victims of abuse, violence, neglect and exploitation and many others who are made vulnerable through the spread of HIV and AIDS. It is hoped that all FBOs who undertake this training will be able to work better with other key stakeholders in providing care and protection for Papua New Guinea’s vulnerable children.



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