By PETER KORUGL
Kyla (not her real name) is an orphan and lives in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea (PNG) with an aunt who has six children of her own. Her aunt’s husband is a labourer earning about K80 a fortnight.
“I don’t know how I got involved in selling sex. My friends (school girls) were already selling sex. I started at the age of 12. My boyfriend forced me. At that time I needed the money to buy clothes and food for myself. That is the reason why,” Kyla said.
The young girl revealed this in a 2006 interview with a study team that researched into child sex abuse and commercial sexual exploitation of children in PNG. The study was conducted by Help Resources and Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee (FSVAC) and its report, published by the State Department for Community Development (DCD), highlights that Klya is not the only one selling sex in the country.
The report reveals that children as young as 11 years of age are being forced into prostitution and trafficked as child brides.
It said children are also sexually abused in their own communities, raped and abused by persons in authority including police.
The report stated that young girls and even toddlers are also frequently becoming victims of gang rape, sometimes as part of tribal fighting and payback.
“Child sexual abuse is believed to be pervasive throughout Papua New Guinea. However the lack of effective data mechanisms in most parts of the country inhibits proper evaluation of the problem. Worryingly, this abuse generally takes place in homes, schools, urban neighbourhoods and rural villages; places where children are typically expected to be safe and secure, and is perpetrated by people in a relationship of trust with victims, such as fathers, adopted fathers, relatives, teachers, police and church leaders,” says the report.
The report also highlights that children are commonly exploited sexually through child prostitution, commercial trafficking and pornography. “Many children become involved in prostitution as a means of escaping poverty and/or as a result of previous sexual abuse. Increasing demand for younger sex workers also contributes to the increasing prevalence of child prostitution. A 2004 report noted that men were seeking out younger sex workers as they were believed to be “more sexually appealing, more dynamic and explorative in their sexual approaches and easily manipulated,” the report stated.
The report notes that another common form of exploitation is the sale and trafficking of young girls as child brides and domestic servants within PNG and across the Indonesian border. The girls are also sometimes sold to foreigners working at work camps and offered as repayment for debts.
The report further notes that there are also worrying indicators that children are being increasingly used in pornography.
The report said that child pornography is widely available and while most of this is imported, anecdotal evidence suggests that some is locally made.
The report adds “Early marriage is a form of commercial exploitation of girls and is a major factor in the denial of other core human rights. Despite the Supreme Court ruling that customary early marriage of young girls is inconsistent with the Constitution of PNG in the late 1990s, girls as young as 12 are still married under customary law today.”
A 2000 study found that 3,870 children aged 1- 14 living in rural areas and 633 in urban areas have been married. Close to 25 per cent of these children had been separated, divorced or widowed by the age of 18.
Girls who marry before they turn 18 often experience socioeconomic outcomes as adults, are usually poorly educated, have more children, are more likely to be in polygamous relationships with older men and are more likely to experience domestic and sexual violence.
Lack of knowledge and acceptance of human rights is reflected in the prevalence of physical and emotional abuse, while this also leads to other harmful practises such as the abuse of traditional adoption practises.
Economic factors also increase the vulnerability of women and children as many men were increasingly disposing cash for alcohol, drugs and sex. This result in some families sexually exploit their children to relieve their poverty.