PAPUA NEW GUINEA WOMEN DECLARE WAR ON CRIME

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Multiple rape by packs of jobless men, domestic violence, and the spiraling lawlessness in Papua New Guinea's capital of Port Moresby have stirred the women of the nation into action. They have declared a war on crime to regain peace in the homes and streets. Asia-Pacific Network reports.

By David Robie

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (November 25, 1997-Niuswire/ Asia-Pacific Network)--- Hundreds of Papua New Guinean women have marched on Parliament and launched a national campaign demanding that politicians act to halt a spiraling wave of gang rapes, armed hold-ups and killings, and domestic violence.

The government has hinted at an overhaul of the country's controversial Internal Security Act and an introduction of tougher new penalties for all crimes.

A proposal for a Human Rights Commission will be "shelved" and curbs imposed on freedom of movement in a bid to reduce crime.

In an angry condemnation of the epidemic of abductions and gang rapes, prominent statesman and civic rights lawyer Sir Anthony Siagaru publicly warned "a war has been declared against our women."

He blames traditional culture for allowing multiple rape to become "institutionalized" in Papua New Guinea society.

Although he does not support the setting up of vigilante groups, as demanded by some community leaders, he says the men of Papua New Guinea should "stop being so hypocritical about our commitment and devotion to ideas of freedom and democracy and equality, when we are condemning half of our people to a life of fear, restriction, and the ever present threat of horrific violence and torture "simply because of their gender."

Milne Bay Governor Dame Josephine Abaijah, one of just two women in the 109-seat national Parliament, has also lashed out at the government for failing to help women.

"It isn't really doing anything to help the women of this country. Instead, it is telling lies to our people to stay in power," she said.

The latest outcry follows a case in the Highlands province of Chimbu when a woman who boarded a public bus, known as "PMVs," in the town of Kundiawa for the neighboring Western Highlands provincial capital of Mt. Hagen.

According to police, she was abducted by the driver and his off-sider and driven to a village outside the city where she was raped by more than 21 men in a night-long ordeal.

"Such animal brutality almost defies description," said the National newspaper in an editorial." Sadly such cases are increasingly not reported; they are too commonplace and too familiar."

A petition denouncing crime and domestic violence has been presented to Justice Minister Jacob Waima outside Parliament by hundreds of protesting women, many dressed in black.

The women have called on the government to urgently introduce recommendations made in the Law Reform Commission's final report on domestic violence. They cite specific amendments including:

"Peace in our homes and on our streets," "Right to personal safety," and "The womb is where you come from "respect!" declared many of the protest placards.

One of the strongest critics over the issues of domestic violence and rape has been Sir Anthony Siagaru, who writes a weekly newspaper column and is chairman of the national branch of the anti-corruption agency Transparency International.

"Our society is characterized by multiple rape, gangs, or packs as they are most appropriately called, acting in unison --sometimes 20 or more of these criminals destroying a woman, someone's daughter, or wife, or sister, or even mother in the most bestial fashion," he says.

Siagaru argues that the "pack characteristic" of PNG society "puts us up there at the top of the league, real giant killers, right up in front along with South Africa."

Hard statistics are difficult to obtain, but community leaders and police agree that law and order has sharply deteriorated in Papua New Guinea.

Newly appointed Police Commissioner Peter Aigilo has urged the public to help fight lawlessness in the country.

Speaking at the opening of Morata sub police station in the capital of Port Moresby --in a the heart of a notorious settlement suburb often blamed for spawning young criminals-- Aigilo stressed that local people know the trouble makers in their communities.

"I challenge you to get involved and fight against this disease that is ruining your community, the city, and the nation," he said.

Aigilo praised the establishment of a team of "city rangers," community leaders who will work closely with police to address crime and social problems facing the community.

Port Moresby has grown rapidly in the past two decades since independence and an estimated third of the 300,000 plus population live in squatter settlements and are unemployed.

Gangs of these jobless youth, known as "rascals," and frequently armed with high-powered guns smuggled out of the Bougainville war or home-made firearms, roam the city robbing banks and shops.

They are prepared to kill for paltry sums of money.

In a recent incident at the University of Papua New Guinea, on the outskirts of Port Moresby, a senior executive was shot dead by rascals just to seize his car.

This was the seventh murder of staff and students at the university in the past five years. Most of the deaths, including the killing of a popular local anthropologist, Janet Kisau, studying for her PhD, remain unsolved.

In a recent survey of women in the capital by the Post-Courier newspaper, headlined "The fear in Moresby streets," most said they did not walk around the capital after 5:00 p.m. in the evening.

"No woman can feel safe if they are not at home by dark," they said. All public transport stops at dusk.

One young woman, identified by the paper as "Didi from New Ireland," said she never went out without a male companion.

"I also carry a spray or knife," Didi said.

"If I'm walking with my girlfriends, we get harassed by small boys. And you can't trust security guards because they also make passes at girls."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Robie is a New Zealand journalist and author. He is currently Lecturer in Journalism at the University of Papua New Guinea.

Title -- 1043 CRIME: PNG women declare war on gang rape Date -- 25 November 1997 Byline -- David Robie Origin -- Niuswire (niusedita@pactok.net.au) Source -- Asia-Pacific Network, 25/11/97 Copyright -- APN Status -- Unabridged

This document is for educational and personal use only. Recipients should seek permission from the copyright source for reprinting. This service is provided by Journalism Studies, University of Papua New Guinea. Please acknowledge NIUSWIRE. Queries: niusedita@pactok.net.au http://www.pactok.net.au/docs/nius/

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