An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
ALL human societies have a fair share of social ills that they create and attempt to address. Among them is domestic violence.
There are different explanations for domestic violence. In Papua New Guinea, wife bashing, rape, incest and child abuse in homes are among the emerging social ills facing society.
A few cases of domestic violence reach the mainstream media and are discussed publicly with condemnation accorded where it is due. However, there are many unrecorded cases of domestic violence in PNG.
The churches have been using their extensive network to deal with domestic violence and other social ills. There are also many community based and civil society organisations, some supported by international development partners, to complement the work of the churches in this area.
It is understandable that governments have to deal with competing priorities and use their established institutional public service machinery to channel resources in the name of service delivery.
There has been praise and criticism of the government’s approach in PNG. In my view, though, the government has to step up addressing domestic violence. In many parts of PNG, the ward councillors, LLG presidents, village court magistrates, peace officers and village based police officers lack the resources and the knowledge to appropriately deal with domestic violence.
With urban police requesting fuel money to attend to problems and some councillors and LLG presidents remarrying and watching their wives fighting each other openly, domestic violence issues grow daily.
Many village court officials, councillors and even some public servants are not aware that PNG’s constitution and other laws uphold the democratic value of the right to live without harassment and intimidation. This is an intrinsic value in democracies that serves as a vehicle for advancing humanity.
Domestic violence of all kinds amounts to a violation of human rights. It goes against the United Nations Charter on Human rights and the very ideals of democracy which are enshrined in the Constitution of PNG.
It calls for the matrilineal and patrilineal societies in PNG to revisit their cultures, scrutinise cultural ideals and practices, and uphold those that promote human right values embedded in our constitutional democracy.
The residue that don’t mix well with democratic ideals must be publicly condemned. Our societies must step up to have more say in how they want domestic violence to be addressed.
Community based and civil society organisations must continue to apply pressure and hold governments at all levels accountable for their failures to address domestic violence issues.
Papua New Guineans must learn that marriage does not give them the right to be physically or verbally violent. An uncle or aunt has obligations to take care of nieces and nephews, but that protection does not give them the right to abuse them in any way.
Someone has the right to adopt a child, but that decision does not allow the person to abuse the child. Married couples have a right to have children, but not a right to mistreat them.
There have been reported cases of incest in PNG which makes me wonder whether the Melanesian value of caring for relatives’ children are still a useful part of our heritage.
Scholars of rape cases remind us that this crime is more often committed by people who are familiar to each other. Incest and rape are violent incidents that leave a scar on the soul of the victim.
Many Papua New Guinean married couple get into verbal arguments, tormenting each other with words in the presence of their children and neighbours. Sometimes, these arguments turned into violence.
Neighbours and relatives rush to the scene to pull the children away and let the fight continue and come back after the fight to nurse the bruises and cuts with hot or ice water. If the damage is serious, they take the victim to the health centre.
In most cases, the victims are women. Taking the matter further to police or courts is a matter for the victim or relatives to take up. Male relatives rarely initiate such moves.
In urban centres there have been increasing fights involving men and women in public places. Bystanders don’t seem to care who is the victim in these fights. To most bystanders, street fights and domestic violence is a normal part of the PNG way of life.
Many women become victims of aggrieved boyfriends and husbands in public places. This practice has also crept into schools and universities where boy and girlfriends get into verbal arguments and fights.
A female colleague of mine who hails from a matrilineal society in PNG observed that in these societies, violence against women is common and it appears there is no value placed on the women who own the land.
Turea Wickham says “violence against one human being against another is abuse, whether it is psychological, verbal, physical or emotional, regardless of colour, creed or gender”.
PNG must make a concerted effort to create awareness, understanding and positive attitudes among citizens so that Turea’s words can be given value.