, AUSTRALIA, Nov 4 – Violence against women in Papua New Guinea is at “emergency” levels, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday, exposing harrowing brutality, long-term abuse and revealing that wives who complain risk being accused of sorcery.
In a report released in Sydney, the watchdog accused the government of neglecting survivors’ needs for safety, services and justice, and found that women often had no choice but to live with abusive partners.
“We heard the most harrowing stories from woman after woman,” senior researcher Heather Barr said.
“Women showed us their scars — from being hacked with knives, having bones reconstructed, having teeth punched out — and then described how they had to go back to the husbands who attacked them, because they had no other option.”
The HRW report, based on 46 interviews including with victims, makes no statistical claims on the prevalence of family violence in PNG but points to systemic problems in addressing the issue.
In calling on the PNG government and police to implement laws to counter the problem, HRW said family violence had been estimated to affect two-thirds of homes in the country and was an “emergency”.
“In so many of the cases that we documented it was systematic, long-term abuse. Week after week of beatings,” HRW Australia director Elaine Pearson told reporters in Sydney in launching the report “Bashed Up: Family Violence in Papua New Guinea”.
She said those women who did seek help rarely saw the Family Protection Act — a 2013 law that sets new penalties for family violence and was designed to protect and assist victims — enforced.
“Women, finally plucking up the courage to do something about it, are then being told: ‘Oh, no you should go back to your husband and don’t upset him next time when he’s watching the football’,” she said.
PNG human rights defender Monica Paulus, who is from the nation’s rugged central Highlands, said women trying to escape violence were also battling poverty, traditions that tied them to their husband’s families and a lack of safe houses.
Paulus said women who wanted to pursue their cases in village courts also had to pay several fees and were often saddled with paying for medical reports documenting their injuries. Often cases dragged on for so long, women gave up.
“We live in a culture which contributes to this — the polygamy, the bride price,” she said, referring to the tradition of a man’s family paying a woman’s family ahead of the marriage.
If the woman subsequently wants a divorce, this price must be repaid — an onerous if not impossible task for those making a subsistence living.
Accusations of sorcery could be raised against a woman, particularly if the husband wanted to remarry, said Paulus.
“Sorcery accusations all too often become a form of family violence, with abusive husbands threatening or using sorcery accusations to silence and control women,” the report said.