DAVENDRA SHARMA | Islands Business
ONLY MONTHS AFTER Papua New Guinea seems to have settled its damaging social issue of sorcery, a damning international report in July alerted that the country is fast carving a name as a haven for sex trafficking of women and children.
PNG is the only country from Oceania to have been noted in the report, which condemns countries like Algeria, Congo, Central African Republic, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Yemen, Sudan and Saudi Arabia for such a trade.
Even the US Secretary of State John Kerry said the report was a “clear and honest assessment”. He said the escalating sex and forced labour trade of underprivileged women and children around the globe was a concern for the Washington administration.
“The end of legal slavery in the United States and around the world has not meant the end of slavery,” Kerry noted.
Emerging as a new trend over the past 18 months in PNG’s main cities was the use of teenagers and often under-aged girls in nightclubs known as ‘Mosko Girls’ selling an alcoholic drink, Mosko, and providing companionship to male patrons.
“Teenagers, particularly under-aged girls, are employed in nightclubs as hostesses, dancers and bartenders,” the report claimed about PNG, where sex trafficking and domestic servitude is an issue of national agenda. The findings are a result of questionnaires submitted by government and non-government groups.
Internal trafficking involving children, including girls from tribal areas as young as five, are being coerced into sexual exploitation or forced labour by members of their immediate families or regional tribe. “Tribal leaders sometimes trade with each other the exploitative labour and service of girls and women for guns and political advantage,” the report said.
It is well established that in age-old PNG tribal customs, parents often part with their daughters into marriages for the sake of debts. “Traditional customs in PNG permit parents to sell their daughters into forced marriages—often to wealthy men and politicians—to settle debts, leaving them vulnerable to forced domestic service,” noted the US report.
“In more urban areas, some children from poorer families are prostituted by parents or sold to brothels.”
Asian crime rings, foreign logging companies and foreign businesspeople arrange for some foreign women to voluntarily enter PNG with fraudulently issued tourist or business visas. Subsequent to their arrival, many of the women, from countries including Malaysia, Thailand, China and the Philippines, are turned over to traffickers who transport them to logging and mining camps, fisheries and entertainment sites, and then exploit them in forced prostitution and domestic servitude,” observed the report.
While girls and women often fall prey to human trafficking channels within PNG and abroad, there have been reports that young boys are also being miserably treated. Boys as young as 12 were being hired to work as “market taxis” in cities like Port Moresby, Lae and Goroka carting extremely heavy loads for pittance.
The US report categorised PNG as one of the least regulated when it comes to specific offences covering trafficking in children, sexual exploitation and forced labour. Regrettably, PNG is a “source destination and transit country for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour”, warns the report.
Men from certain tribes were being forced into logging and mining camps in PNG at comparatively low wage rates. What seemed worrying is that Port Moresby was not even complying with the minimum of standards required at international levels to eliminate or combat trafficking and child sex exploitation.
The report cautioned that instead of enacting legislations to combat such practices, certain elements of the Port Moresby administration are actually facilitating human trafficking through bribery and trading victims for political favours.
It was evident from the free flow of Asian crime gangs in PNG that officials were issuing fraudulently-issued tourist or business visas.
“Subsequent to their arrival, many of the women, from countries including Malaysia, Thailand, China and the Philippines are turned over to traffickers who transport them to logging and mining camps, fisheries, and entertainment sites,” the report said. “[They] then exploit them in forced prostitution and domestic servitude.”
It said that government officials have been directly involved in such illicit trade for years as there are cases cited for such crimes leading to buying of votes or political favours. If PNG was serious about stopping the rot before the issue reaches unmanageable levels, the government must formulate legislation that prohibit and punish all forms of trafficking and “increasing collaboration with civil society, religious and tribal leaders to raise awareness and reduce demand for forced labour and commercial sex acts”.
Social leaders blamed the high occurrence of the problem in PNG to lack of youth employment and urban drift.
“Urban drift, [the] high cost of living in centres like Port Moresby and the lack of employment of youth…is causing the need for these kind of activities,” said World Vision PNG national director, Dr Curt von Boguslawski said.
The US report said the sale of daughters into forced marriages to settle debts leaves girls and young women vulnerable to exploitation and polygamy. “Tribal leaders sometimes trade with each other the exploitative labor and service of girls and women for guns and political advantage.”
Men from villages and some resident Chinese who incurred heavy debts in villages were being lured to work on commercial mines and logging camps to free up their dues but found themselves into further debt.
“Employers exacerbate workers’ indebtedness by paying substandard wages and charging artificially inflated prices at the company store,” it said. “In such circumstances, an employee’s only option is to buy food and other necessities on terms of credit.”
The government has since 2011 debated on a draft law on human trafficking—endorsed by PNG’s National Executive Council—but has yet to win green light. A government spokesman did acknowledge that PNG has trained 78 law enforcement and non-law enforcement government officers and 82 NGO representatives on human trafficking issues under a project undertaken by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General.