CRYING MERI: Violence Against Women in Papua New Guinea

Photographer Vlad Sokhin had passed through PNG several weeks ago. A friend of mine had put him in touch with me, but unfortunately I was unable to assist him with lining up some shots for him. So Vlad if you’re reading this, I’m very sorry again for not being able to help you out.

Nevertheless he seems to have done very well with his images of PNG. These images are quite graphic and a PNG friend of mine took objection to his photography, but I had to disagree. I have a relative who killed his wife over a family dispute, he didn’t mean it but she’s gone and will never come back. Vlad may have only been in PNG for 2 weeks, but as he stated in a radio interview, the women were more than willing to be photographed. They just wanted someone to care about what was happening to them.

Yes its raw, yes it makes PNG look bad, but it’s one aspect of PNG life that we need to see more of, not only to highlight, but more so we can own the problem. We need to embrace this, we need to each own this issue and turn it into some form of hope for our future.

Maybe it is great timing then that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, will be conducting her first official fact-finding mission to Papua New Guinea from 18 to 26 March 2012.

Ms. Manjoo says that her visit  “…will look at violence against women broadly, studying the main manifestations, causes and consequences of violence against women in the family, in the community, violence that is perpetrated or condoned by the State, and violence against women in the transnational sphere,” She will meet with government authorities, and representatives of civil society in Port Moresby, Goroka, Kundiawa, Minj and Buka. She will also visit shelters and detention centres, and meet with individual victims of gender-based violence.

A press conference on the initial findings of the visit will be held at the Public Information Centre, Deloitte Tower Ground Floor, Douglas Street, Port Moresby on Monday 26 March 2012 at 13:00 h.

Based on the information obtained during the visit, Ms. Manjoo will present a report with her final findings and recommendations to a forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council.

I’m not sure how the UN will help in the long run, although it is some good news, all I know is that this is certainly not a world that I want my daughter to grow up in.

[ Click here to learn more about the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and read about her recent trip to the Solomon Islands here ]

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By Vlad Sokhin

According to the statistics, in Papua New Guinea two thirds of women are constantly exposed to domestic violence and about 50% of women become victims of sexual assaults (in Chimbu and Western Highlands provinces, 97% and 100% respectively of women surveyed said they had been assaulted). Local men don’t respect their meris (“meri” in Pidgin means “woman”), constantly beating them, often using bush knives and axes. While in traditional villages such attitudes toward women can be attributed to tribal culture, today in Port Moresby violence against women shocks modern society.

The main danger comes from the Raskol gangs that rule the settlements in the capital city. Raping women is a “must” for the young members of the gang. In most Papua tribes, when a boy wants to become a man, he should go to enemy’s village and kill a pig. After that, his community will accept him as an adult. In industrial Port Moresby women have replaced pigs.

It is very rare that violence-against-women cases are brought to court. Most assailants are kept in a prison cell at the police station for a couple of days and then released. The police claim the lack of conviction stems from the fact that victims often fear filing a statement or that many wives take pity on their husbands and insist on the termination of the case. According to the Family Support Center’s statistics, more and more violence against women happens in middle class families, where lawyers, policemen or even church pastors strike their wives. Rejected and beaten women are often kicked out of home to the street, where they became easy targets for the Raskol gangs.

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Helena Michael (40), mother of seven children. On December 27th (2011) she was attacked by a "cannibal" near the Boroko police station, in the central part of Port Moresby. The attacker bit off Helena's lower lip and wanted to sink his teeth into her throat. The woman managed to escape by kicking her assailant in his testicles and biting three of his fingers forcing him to release her. Police arrested the man and found out that it was his third attempt to eat human flesh. Having spent three days in the hospital, Helena went to the police station to initiate criminal proceedings against the cannibal, but discovered that he had been released due to the lack of complaints. Helena is still waiting for the hospital’s approval to start surgery for skin graft on her missing lip.

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Helena Michael (40), mother of seven children. On December 27th (2011) she was attacked by a “cannibal” near the Boroko police station, in the central part of Port Moresby. The attacker bit off Helena’s lower lip and wanted to sink his teeth into her throat. The woman managed to escape by kicking her assailant in his testicles and biting three of his fingers forcing him to release her. Police arrested the man and found out that it was his third attempt to eat human flesh. Having spent three days in the hospital, Helena went to the police station to initiate criminal proceedings against the cannibal, but discovered that he had been released due to the lack of complaints. Helena is still waiting for the hospital’s approval to start surgery for skin graft on her missing lip.
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Peter Umba Moses (32), one of the leaders of the “Dirty Dons 585” Raskol gang. He says that raping women is a “must” for the young members of the gang. Peter himself has raped more than 30 women, 3 of them were murdered. By his words he has not been involved in any crimes for over a year, but he is still giving criminal advice to the young members of the gang.
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Peter Umba Moses (32), one of the leaders of the “Dirty Dons 585” Raskol gang. He says that raping women is a “must” for the young members of the gang. Peter himself has raped more than 30 women, 3 of them were murdered. By his words he has not been involved in any crimes for over a year, but he is still giving criminal advice to the young members of the gang.
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Gynecologist Dr. Freeda Wemin examines the genitals of 14-year-old Freda Masked, who was raped by a 40-year-old lawyer. Freda said that the man was a friend of her family and she didn’t suspect anything when he offered her a lift to the market. Instead he drove Freda to his house, raped her and then left her on the road of the settlement. Freda’s father brought his daughter to the hospital but wasn’t sure if he wanted to sue the rapist.
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Gynecologist Dr. Freeda Wemin examines the genitals of 14-year-old Freda Masked, who was raped by a 40-year-old lawyer. Freda said that the man was a friend of her family and she didn’t suspect anything when he offered her a lift to the market. Instead he drove Freda to his house, raped her and then left her on the road of the settlement. Freda’s father brought his daughter to the hospital but wasn’t sure if he wanted to sue the rapist.
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Richard Bal (45) shows disfigured ear of his wife Agita Bal (32) in the Morobe block, Port Moresby. In December of 2010 after coming home drunk, Richard took a bush-knife and cut half of Agita’s left ear. He spent one night in the police station and was released next morning due to "insufficient evidence" to initiate criminal proceedings. Agita’s relatives didn’t allow her to leave Richard, having received 500 kina (about 240 USD) from him for the “potential damage”.
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Richard Bal (45) shows disfigured ear of his wife Agita Bal (32) in the Morobe block, Port Moresby. In December of 2010 after coming home drunk, Richard took a bush-knife and cut half of Agita’s left ear. He spent one night in the police station and was released next morning due to “insufficient evidence” to initiate criminal proceedings. Agita’s relatives didn’t allow her to leave Richard, having received 500 kina (about 240 USD) from him for the “potential damage”.
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Members of the Raskol gang “Dirty Dons 585”, Nine Mile Settlement, Port Moresby. All of these young men committed a set of rapes and armed robberies. The gang members admit that two thirds of their victims are women.
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Members of the Raskol gang “Dirty Dons 585”, Nine Mile Settlement, Port Moresby. All of these young men committed a set of rapes and armed robberies. The gang members admit that two thirds of their victims are women.
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Mary Elaes (48), a wife of a Raskol gang member, called Blackie. Her husband hangs out with the gang almost all the time, coming home from time to time for food only. When there is no food in the house, he beats Mary, causing limb fractures and other injuries. Because of his criminal activities the police repeatedly look for Blackie in his house and, quite often, having failed to find him at home, arrests his wife. Mary was taken to prison many times, often with her children. To escape from her husband and police brutality, Mary often finds shelter in the local Catholic Church. Port Moresby, Eight Mile, Settlement.
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Mary Elaes (48), a wife of a Raskol gang member, called Blackie. Her husband hangs out with the gang almost all the time, coming home from time to time for food only. When there is no food in the house, he beats Mary, causing limb fractures and other injuries. Because of his criminal activities the police repeatedly look for Blackie in his house and, quite often, having failed to find him at home, arrests his wife. Mary was taken to prison many times, often with her children. To escape from her husband and police brutality, Mary often finds shelter in the local Catholic Church. Port Moresby, Eight Mile, Settlement.
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Banil Yalomba (16) came to the Antenatal Clinic of Port Moresby after having been sexually assaulted by her ex-boyfriend. A day after they separated, her former partner came to her parents’ house and dragged Banil to a bush area, threatening her with a knife. There he beat her and raped her. Banil’s father managed to find his daughter laying unconscious on the ground and brought her to the hospital.
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Banil Yalomba (16) came to the Antenatal Clinic of Port Moresby after having been sexually assaulted by her ex-boyfriend. A day after they separated, her former partner came to her parents’ house and dragged Banil to a bush area, threatening her with a knife. There he beat her and raped her. Banil’s father managed to find his daughter laying unconscious on the ground and brought her to the hospital.
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A Prison cell of the Boroko police station is mostly filled with murderers and rapists. The police officers on duty admit that it is very rare case that men are imprisoned on accusation for domestic violence.
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A Prison cell of the Boroko police station is mostly filled with murderers and rapists. The police officers on duty admit that it is very rare case that men are imprisoned on accusation for domestic violence.
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Molly Liri (42) is waiting for the medical examination at the Family Support Center of Port Moresby General Hospital. Molly was brutally beaten by her husband, a security guard, who does not allow her to leave their house. At the Family Support Center she will be given a 24-hours shelter and thereafter she will need to decide whether to report her husband to the police or go back home, where she is subjected to regular domestic violence.
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Molly Liri (42) is waiting for the medical examination at the Family Support Center of Port Moresby General Hospital. Molly was brutally beaten by her husband, a security guard, who does not allow her to leave their house. At the Family Support Center she will be given a 24-hours shelter and thereafter she will need to decide whether to report her husband to the police or go back home, where she is subjected to regular domestic violence.
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Police officer Job Eremugo shows on his computer screen a photo of a woman who was a victim of domestic violence. According to him, at the Boroki police station at least three women report being assaulted by their husbands or strangers every day.
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Police officer Job Eremugo shows on his computer screen a photo of a woman who was a victim of domestic violence. According to him, at the Boroki police station at least three women report being assaulted by their husbands or strangers every day.
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Anna Smith (42) and Bernadette Ktui (26) have been living in the City Mission refugee center since December of 2011. They arrived there severely injured and decided to ask for three months shelter, not wanting to go back to their husbands who abused them. The Port Moresby’s City Mission can shelter only 30 women at the same time. In the PNG capital, with the population of three hundred thousand people, 50% of the women are estimated to be in need of protection from domestic or street violence.
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Anna Smith (42) and Bernadette Ktui (26) have been living in the City Mission refugee center since December of 2011. They arrived there severely injured and decided to ask for three months shelter, not wanting to go back to their husbands who abused them. The Port Moresby’s City Mission can shelter only 30 women at the same time. In the PNG capital, with the population of three hundred thousand people, 50% of the women are estimated to be in need of protection from domestic or street violence.
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Andres Sime (39), is waiting for trial in a prison cell, having been accused of multiple rapes. The Boroko police station, Port Moresby.
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Andres Sime (39), is waiting for trial in a prison cell, having been accused of multiple rapes. The Boroko police station, Port Moresby.
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A nurse of the Antenatal Clinic of Port Moresby is conducting a medical examination of Doring Kande (23), 5 month pregnant, who was brutally attacked by her husband and expelled from her house early in the morning. Doring's drunken husband assaulted her, kicking her in the abdomen, and repeatedly striking her face against the wall. During the ultrasound the doctors did not hear the heartbeat of the unborn baby. Doring reported to the police, but the man at the time of this report the man had not been arrested.<br /><br /><br />
Linda Amaki grieves the death of her 25-year-old daughter Amanda, who died at the Emergency section of the Port Moresby General Hospital after being raped on the street by members of the Raskol gang. The bandits stabbed her several times and she died without regaining consciousness.
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A nurse of the Antenatal Clinic of Port Moresby is conducting a medical examination of Doring Kande (23), 5 month pregnant, who was brutally attacked by her husband and expelled from her house early in the morning. Doring’s drunken husband assaulted her, kicking her in the abdomen, and repeatedly striking her face against the wall. During the ultrasound the doctors did not hear the heartbeat of the unborn baby. Doring reported to the police, but the man at the time of this report the man had not been arrested. Linda Amaki grieves the death of her 25-year-old daughter Amanda, who died at the Emergency section of the Port Moresby General Hospital after being raped on the street by members of the Raskol gang. The bandits stabbed her several times and she died without regaining consciousness.
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Linda Amaki grieves the death of her 25-year-old daughter Amanda, who died at the Emergency section of the Port Moresby General Hospital after being raped on the street by members of the Raskol gang. The bandits stabbed her several times and she died without regaining consciousness.
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Linda Amaki grieves the death of her 25-year-old daughter Amanda, who died at the Emergency section of the Port Moresby General Hospital after being raped on the street by members of the Raskol gang. The bandits stabbed her several times and she died without regaining consciousness.
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Examination room at the Antenatal Clinic of Port Moresby. Doctors say that every week they receive at least three women, who were victims of sexual assault. However, the majority of Papua New Guinean women are afraid to report sexual violence, not wanting to have their case became known to relatives and neighbors.
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Examination room at the Antenatal Clinic of Port Moresby. Doctors say that every week they receive at least three women, who were victims of sexual assault. However, the majority of Papua New Guinean women are afraid to report sexual violence, not wanting to have their case became known to relatives and neighbors.

20 thoughts on “CRYING MERI: Violence Against Women in Papua New Guinea

  1. If cops and politicians are involved in violence against women in PNG, it is going to take more than the laws in place to weed it out. We need something like what happened in Fiji. Have someone with true values and a vision and will to clean up PNG in every aspect.

    1. Vincent Namekat,it takes a MAN to turn away from the damage he can do to any woman; altermately, the urge to do anything depends on the individual;but in the case of this brutality,I agree with you;if policemen and polliticians are into this behaviour of abuse of their wives and other females then all I can say is..God helps us all..we still living in the past ages,never mind the thousands we get from wherever, it will not help at all.
      What the human heart needs is God,when He is placed in His rightful place,the individual and the human heart is directed in the right way…no amount of going to church come Saturday or Sunday will change a person;only until Jesus the Christ is made the LORD of persons life…then there is a turn about.This abusive men need to get themselves right with God first and foremost.

  2. I am a victim of domestic violence. I have a degree and so does he (my now former partner), he lied to me cheated on me and behaved like a coward. I cried and I begged to know about his affair but I got few answers. We have broken up now, I agreed to drop the assault charges in exchange for a break up (he did not want his name tarnished). Maybe sometimes our problem with domestic violence (and associated social ills) is that we think it is “okay”, “em nomol ya” so many of us educated women live with it and condone it – especially when our brothers, relatives do it, we say nothing. We must take a stand against it and encourage others to do the same. I am. I refuse to be made a fool of, mistreated and have that treatment extended to my offspring. I have applied for custody of my son. I have done a pap smear test and I will do an HIV/AIDS test. God willing my future will be brighter
    🙂

    Our nation, our communities, our neighbourhoods, are only as strong as the families in it. Once the family unit crumbles, we say goodbye to good governance and hello to social problems. Your decision to love and stay faithful to one partner is probably the next most important decision you make to accepting God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

  3. @ miss “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, I envy your determination to break out of such ‘culture’. Your story will empower other women and may give them the courage to help themselves.

    We need more shelters like the City Mission Refugee Centre, NOT casinos/clubs and the like! If it can only provide for 30 women at a time, how many are left to fend for themselves, how many are turned back to their torturous lives? We need more shelters where women like Mary Elaes can seek refuge, I am sure she gains comfort from being in the church but it will not be able to protect her from her husband should he follow her there, not to mention the Police:\

    It’s so sickening seeing those culprits posing for a foreign photographer as though they have done something to be proud of! It’s so sickening seeing them pose when there are hundreds of women and young females who will be tormented by their doings for the rest of their lives, well, those that survived.

    A police officer attacked a minor? What is happening to us? PNG? As the ‘developments’ grow, the crimes escalate! What’s being done about the settlements? What’s being done about the school drop-outs? What’s being done about the unemployed? What’s being done about the uneducated? What’s being done about the ever growing law and order issues?

    @ Judy, we do need God! In these times, we certainly and desperately need His guidance and help!

  4. Great coverage even when it was only around Port Moresby. domestic violence can only be taken seriously, when men,women & child acknowledge it as a crime. until it is acknowledged, only then people will respect the consequences of their actions.

  5. Violence against women, and men, is definitely a part of life in PNG that has to change, and the discussion that your post has encouraged here is good, but I agree with your friend who ‘took objection’ to the photography. It seems to me Vlad has done this for his own personal gain and not really to make any tangible changes in a country he is so far removed from and won’t ever have to see his own daughter grow up in.

    His introductory words claim that many abused wives never follow through with the courts without considering that a husband in jail is not the solution to the problem, particularly when they are the breadwinners and there are children to feed, house and school. Counselling services through Haus Ruth for example are real solutions for couples but there’s no mention of this.

    As for the paper being pushed around at the UN, I feel like that’s for their own curiosity and for them to be able to sip their drinks at their fancy functions and explain their ‘discoveries’ to colleagues who shrug and say “What can you do?”

    I recently went to a photo exhibition that showcased a side of PNG that rarely gets through to the media – beautiful photos of everyday goings-on where people aren’t being corrupt and violent. The proceeds were donated to Haus Ruth. In my view, that tackled the issue more gracefully.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Amanda. I think you raise really important issues about the ethics of this kind of approach to awareness and advocacy. While the images are powerful and confronting, Vlad’s commentary is not helpful at all and reveals more about his own limited knowledge of PNG (as he “passed through” with a camera) than it does to promote understanding of the social complexities of violence. And what does the use of disturbing images say about what it takes to activate a social response, not to mention how we understand “evidence”? The UN “official fact-finding missions” are also very problematic, not the least being that they represent yet another round of cobbling together statistics and making generalized statements that are stripped of context. Sure, The UN Special Rapporteur brings high-level status to the exercise, but there is capacity within the country to undertake a critical examination of the issues based on local knowledge and insights. How many times do we have to say that PNG doesn’t need another “expert” to come in to do a quick tour and audit? Doing things ethically and locally, and with grace as you say, goes much further in bringing about long term social change.

  6. Good point Amanda, maybe we should ask Vlad about that, like maybe exhibiting his work at our Museum perhaps and charging a small fee for funds to go to Haus Ruth too.

    I’ll look into this…

  7. I knew this violence was a daily occurrence in PNG, but — if possible — I’m even more appalled by this post and the graphic images.What the hell are police doing that they don’t at least arrest the wretched Raskol Gang? If they don’t – when they are known – then they are as bad as them.

  8. Family and sexual violence have long been recognized as serious problems in Papua New Guinea; nearly 20 years ago a government study revealed shocking levels of violence throughout the country. Further studies have reached the same conclusion: family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea is widespread and has a devastating impact on the lives of individuals, families, and communities.

    In the last two decades a great deal of time and resources have been invested to tackle this issue, yet almost no progress has been made in providing essential medical and psychosocial care to survivors. Lives are being lost and thousands of women and children are suffering unnecessarily without adequate medical and psychosocial services.

    Rape survivors are at risk of HIV infection, sexually transmitted diseases, hepatitis B, tetanus, and unwanted pregnancies if they do not receive timely, specialized care. Some survivors are at risk of depression, suicide, anxiety, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    These acute needs remain hidden and are widely neglected by Papua New Guinea’s health facilities.

    The medical charity MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders), the largest medical humanitarian organisation in the world, works in Papua New Guinea to address this neglect, providing specialized care for thousands of survivors of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in the town of Lae, located in Morobe Province, and the town of Tari, in Southern Highlands Province.operates two Family Support Centers in PNG, to provide essential medical and psycho-social care to survivors of family and sexual violence. All services are free of charge and confidential.

    It also published the report “Hidden and Neglected: The medical and emotional needs of survivors of family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea”, that highlights the urgent, unmet medical and emotional needs of survivors of family and sexual violence in that country, which is located in Oceania, north of Australia. It recommends concrete action in order to meet these needs.

    This report presents the experiences of MSF’s patients. It is based on first-hand testimonies of staff and survivors, and on previously unseen medical data. MSF’s experience shows that providing quality, specialized care is possible. This report demonstrates that services are needed. They are used and valued when they are available. More than anything, the report highlights the glaring gaps in services in other parts of the country.

    http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/publications/reports/2011/06-15-Papua-New-Guinea-Sexual-Domestic-Violence%20report.pdf

  9. While Vlad is highlighting an issue which is ongoing in Papua New Guinea, his commentry show his limited knowledge and experience of the intricacies of Papua New Guinea sociality.

    Violence in our communities and particularly violence against women is an issue which has been highlighted for many years. What is lacking, is our collective will to take ownership of the issue and work towards finding home grown strategies to address violence in our communities.

  10. I share the same sentiments with all of you. I also agree with you Finah. W need collective effort to change this aspect of country and yes we need home grown strategies to address domestic violence (family violence) like you said. I believe too that we need good leadership – leaders to ensure policies and legislations are followed through and implemented. We need public support from our members of the parliament to publically condemn such acts of violence. We need our public offices to support the works of the non-government organisations and churches that implement support programs towards domestic/family violence intervention. We need leaders who will hold their employees responsible for their acts of violence. And we leaders who can truly lead by example – leaders with INTEGRITY.

  11. Pingback: VAW | Jo Blogs
  12. I am a filipina, a citizen of the Philippines… I am sooo sad for the Women of PNG, the children. This is not at all a place for the children to grow into.., the society is sick.. Too much natural resources only to be sucked by foreign investors and the elite few, and hoodlums raping and killing its women and children. This is soo sick.. I completely agree with this kind of writing, the ppl should not be ashame of it. This is happening, the world should see this. This is not an expose to shame the country. This is a cry for help. For f***ing authorities in the Internalitional field to hear this cry for help. Don’t try to hide the bruised faces of women, No expose it! They need ppl to care. Sh*t! . To hide this kind of brutality is to condone it. We are in the 21st century. Everybody deserves to live in a society free of fear. To live in peace. I cry my heart out seeing this. What can be done? PNG educated ppl…do something…! this is your women and children…! What can be done…??? I cry my heart out seeing this…what can be done????….

  13. as i was reading this article i was really…can’t find the right words to explain how i felt. but i pity those women. i am a samoan. violence against women does exist in samoa but its not as horrible as shown in the article. what can we do? i suppose there’s nothing that can be done in PNG…its part of their culture and to change it means changing their culture too…that would cause a lot of conflict in the country..but what i do suggest (on my own opinion) is for the PNG leaders to open their eyes to what’s going on in their country, to their women and children and do something about it like making the punishment for these crimes more severe..instead of locking them up for one day, 6 years is more better! like its done in my country..and they need to enforce education in the country, for women also..not just men…i guess that’s all from me
    *fa soifua

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