By Dr Charles Dufour.
Last month I had the pleasure of attending a Conference on Child Protection organised in association with the Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
The conference was sponsored by Caritas Australia and hosted by CTI (Catholic Theological Institute), Catholic Children Ministry, and the Melanesian Institute. The aim of the conference was to equip representatives of various institutions with Child Protection materials so that they, in turn, can educate their institutions and communities. The cause of the conference was an appeal for a safe and caring space for children following a series of abuses and shocking incidents that occurred in communities around PNG.
From my little experience of living in PNG for the last 5 months, I understand that children are considered to be protected by their parents, communities, schools, and churches among other human loving and caring families. It is often some of these same adults, who are supposed to love and care for the children, who are the very persons responsible for the abuse.
In most cases, girls are more vulnerable than boys. We often hear news of girls being raped by relatives or teachers who represent their parents. For example, in Enga on March, 5, 2019, an 18 year- old school girl was allegedly raped by her cousin with 5 other men (https://edu.pngfacts.com cf. ‘Police: Five Raped School Girls Till 3am In Enga’). Another example is a 16-year girl who was raped by her teacher at a primary school in the Southern Highlands. Once the teacher was arrested, the parents of the girl received death threats because they refused to accept compensation (February 26, 2019 https://www.thenational.compg). It is not clear but appears that after a time of negotiations between the family of the victim girl and the family of the teacher, compensation was paid to the parents of the girl and the matter was withdrawn from the court. Another example is of a school principal in Port Moresby who abused several girls for a number of years. The community protected the principal despite the evidence demonstrating child sexual abuse. Finally, he was brought to justice by some strong women and religious nuns of the same community and school (the fact told from the Conference).
Are PNG children free of abuse? The answer is Yes and No. – Yes because they are loved and protected by their parents and community – No, because time and again the study shows that children, especially girls, are sexually abused by the people who are close to them. For example, in Lae on March 25, 2019, a man killed his wife in order to marry his 14-year-old stepdaughter, who he had raped twice (https://postcourier.com.pg). Further studies show that in PNG society, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18 (Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, 2006). In another report, a study revealed that up to 8% of males and 12% of females experience penetrative child sexual abuse while up to 16% of male and up to 36% of females experience non-penetrative child sexual abuse (Price-Robertson, Bromfield & Vassallo, 2010).
Does PNG has a law to protect children? Yes, there is a law to protect children which is called Lukautim Pikinini Act. In 2002, the National Parliament of PNG has amended the Criminal Code Act 1974 to protect women and children (see Criminal Code: Sexual Offences and Crime against Children Act 2002 No 27 of 2002, Sections 229 A to 229 J).
There are two ways of reporting child abuse; 1) To the police and 2) To the contact persons. The victim has a choice either to pursue the criminal process or ecclesial process. In the criminal process, the abuse is reported either a) to the police, b) to the Child Welfare or c) to the contact person who can immediately inform the Director of the Committee for Right Relationship in Ministry with full recorded and written information. In the ecclesial process, the victim can report to the contact person who in turn reports to the Director of the Committee for Right Relationship in Ministry. Next, the matter, with a full record of information, will be reported to the bishop who will contact the Holy See for further investigation.
By law, the victim has the right to report the abuse to the police. In case of a priest committing sexual offences, the Bishops Conference of PNG and Solomon Island urges the victim of sexual abuse to report to the police. However, it is the prerogative of the victim of child abuse either to report to the police or to the designated contact persons in each Roman Catholic diocese. Each diocese has two contact persons. As mentioned above, the role of the contact person is to assist the complainant to decide to report the matter to the Director for Right Relationship in Ministry, Child Welfare or the police with all written and recorded voice information about the sexual abuse. In brief, there is a standard process to be followed both by the clergy within the Catholic Church and the criminal process as required by the Lukautim Pikinini Act.
The government sanctions child abuse as a crime. Recently Justice Panuel Mogish sentenced to 8 years in prison a 37-year-old man who assaulted a 7-year-old girl he was babysitting at home (The National, March 20, 2019). In the same vein, The Catholic Church condemned child abuse in all its forms. The Catholic Church in PNG and Solomon Islands has established protocols, systematic guidelines, code of conducts for protecting children in Religious Institutions.
The law is clear but people and parents are not informed enough of their rights, obligations and duty to protect children. Similarly, children don’t know the value of their freedom and responsibility. It is crucially significant for both parents and children to strike a balance on one hand, between freedom and responsibility and on the other hand, between obligations and duty. Child Protection should be understood within the context of PNG culture. This means education in Child Protection should consider the changing culture: a culture that faces education in Human Rights from the socio-cultural, religious and political system; a culture that includes village set up and city life; a culture challenged by single parenting, psychological pressure, and economic uncertainties.
At Good Shepherd Seminary, I am going to implement the education of Child Protection in next year’s curriculum. This is vital education for seminarians to be equipped with the knowledge of Child Protection policy and procedure while studying and attending their pastoral ministry. Fr Paul Walua and I are planning to run workshops by inviting various parishes and other institutions.
This might take time because of financial constraint.
Charles Dufour is working with Good Shepherd Seminary in Papua New Guinea, providing advice on curriculum development to help the school meet the evolving demands made of local students. This project will assist in the development of a comprehensive course in child protection policies and procedures. You can support this project by making a one-off or regular donation.