The Smiles of the Innocents
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Donors fail to act against Pacific child maltreatment: report

AbuseNATALIE WHITING | Australian Broadcasting Corporation | Extracts

Link here to  the full version of Natalie Whiting’s disturbing story

PORT MORESBY - More than four million children in the Pacific region experience violent discipline at home, according to a report from organisations working on the ground.

"Millions of children experience exceptionally high levels of physical, emotional and sexual violence, as well as neglect," the report said.

But the organisations said despite "clear evidence of the scale and gravity of violence," the Australian government and other key donors have "failed to enact the measures needed to end the scourge".

The report, called ‘Unseen, Unsafe’, claims only $1.1 million, or 0.1% of Australian overseas development assistance in 2017, was directly spent on programs solely targeting violence against children.

"The levels of violence against children across the region are shocking, having a deeply detrimental impact on society. Successive donors and governments have so far failed to address it," the report says.

But the Australian government has defended its spending in the area, saying it has programs which directly and indirectly respond to the problem.

On the Island of Bougainville, social worker Stephanie Gerep goes into villages and communities trying to change the behaviour of some parents.

A survey of 700 people in Papua New Guinea found 27% of parents and caregivers sometimes used physical punishment "over and over again, as hard as they could".

Nearly 70% of the children surveyed reported feeling "scared and in pain in their community."

Ms Gerep said using violence as discipline was incredibly common.

She works with Save the Children running a parenting training course funded by the Australian Government, and said the information she gives community members is new to them.

"They thought it was the normal way to raise the child, because they were raised that way," she said.

"But now they've come to this training, they've slowly realised what they've been doing is not right."

She said affected children often didn't attend school and faced other social and development issues.

During the training, some parents broke down in tears and vowed to change the way they discipline their children…..

The report accuses Australian government and other donors in the region of failing to prioritise the problem of violence against children.

Canberra has implemented its Pacific Step Up program aimed at increasing its support in the region and reasserting Australia as the dominant partner.

Over the next 12 months, Australia will contribute $1.4 billion to the Pacific region on a range of initiatives as part of the program.

The organisations behind the report are hoping to get more funding to tackle the issue.

"We've seen billions of dollars being put into infrastructure, so obviously Australia is willing and able to focus in on the region, which is great," said report author Kavitha Suthanthiraraj from Save the Children Australia.

"But what we'd like to see is that there's a focus on programs that end violence against children."

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