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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Nov. 1) - Papua New Guinea has failed to stop police beating, torturing and raping of children as young as six, undermining the fight against an escalating HIV/AIDS epidemic, New York-based Human Rights Watch has warned.

In its second report in two years on police brutality in the country, the human rights group said the fact that police rarely faced punishment meant people feared them as much as criminals in PNG.

"Police rapes and torture are crimes, not methods of crime control," Reuters news agency reported Zama Coursen-Neff, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch’s Children’s Rights Division, as saying. "These brutal tactics have destroyed public confidence in the police."

The 50-page report, Still Making Their Own Rules: Ongoing Impunity for Police Beatings, Rape, and Torture in Papua New Guinea, cited one case in July this year where police raped a six-year-old girl in a police station.

"I hate the police on duty... we go to them for help and they are turning around and doing that," a woman who recalled the rape told the human rights group.

The human rights report found that police routinely lock children up with adults, even when separate space was available, placing them at risk of rape and other forms of violence.

It said corrections officers at Buimo prison in Lae beat and sexually abused boy detainees by forcing them to have anal sex with each other in January this year.

"The abuses perpetuated by the police contribute to a quickly escalating HIV epidemic," the report said.

Officially, there are about 12,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, but AIDS workers estimate that under-reporting and reluctance to be tested mean the real number ranges from 80,000 to 120,000.

It said PNG faced an epidemic on a par with Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand.

But AIDS experts say that, with an annual infection rate of 33 percent, PNG is on the verge of an African-style epidemic that could kill millions and destroy the economy.

The report found abusive police rarely faced punishment and that stemming police violence was difficult because violence was culturally acceptable in Papua New Guinea.

In one case, police officers opened fire on unarmed schoolboys in Porgera in October last year and while two officers were charged, the case has not been sent to the public.

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