A beginner’s guide to understanding expatriates in PNG
Time for men to give up on peace; that’s women’s role

PNG’s new HIV infection law: misunderstood & rarely enforced

Female HIV AIDS patient in PNG (Torsten Blackwood, AFP)DANIEL KUMBON

A couple of years ago the women of Konoagil in New Ireland decided enough was enough and openly expressed outrage that rape, incest, wife bashing and under-age pregnancy was rampant in their area.

At the same time a local non-government organisation, Root of Change, reported that community leaders treated rape and other serious sex related crimes as family affairs and turned a blind eye to them.

It’s a serious situation and the Konoagil women are not alone in their agony.

Hundreds of other women across PNG suffer all forms of violence and abuse. Even male students – educated to a level where they should know better - are involved in abusing fellow students.

Most victims never report their ordeal to police for fear of stigma and discrimination. Nor do most victims of sexual attacks go to hospital for a medical examination, treatment and counseling.

Quite apart from the often severe physical and psychological trauma involved, this abuse is fertile ground for contracting sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.

The PNG government has developed a handbook explaining exactly what people should do if they have been sexually abused and, as a result, contracted HIV/AIDS. There are also legal remedies offered through the HIV/AIDS Management and Prevention Act, 2003.

A civil action can be brought in either the district or the national court. The first step is to get advice from a lawyer. If people do not have the money, it may be possible to get help from the Public Solicitor or from NGOs such as the Individual and Community Rights Advocacy Forum.

The district court can award damages or compensation up to a maximum of K10,000. More than this, action needs to be taken in the national court.

Court cases held under these provisions must be held in camera, which means that only the affected people and court personnel can be in the court. The public and the media are not allowed in the courtroom.

At time of writing, no victim in Enga Province has used the provisions of the HIV/AIDS Ac, perhaps because they do not know of its existence or understood the procedures. But many victims have lodged complaints at weekly Operation Mekim Save joint village court sittings in Wabag town.

That said, the village court magistrates do not appear to operate in accordance with the Act but make decisions to defuse situations that would potentially lead to tribal warfare or cause further discontent.

Enga has already witnessed the first HIV/AIDS-related tribal war - which claimed the lives of more than 20 young men and destroyed schools and other property costing thousands of kina.

The fight started when a woman tested HIV positive after her husband forced her to do a blood test when he heard rumours she had been unfaithful to him. The fight began during an argument as the husband tried to divorce the woman and recover his bride price.

While aggrieved persons should not resort to violence because laws are in place to address these problems, the authorities have a mammoth task to ensure the right information is made available to empower women, most of whom live in remote areas, to protect their rights and advance in life.


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Elizabeth Bakri Dumu

Daniel, you have concluded with pointing out the general gap that currently exists between information and its dissemination to 85% of the rural populace.

Today, a lot of research is done in different areas by different bodies, and a lot of policy changes are made as a result, or different services are being delivered by the private sector and NGO's, yet the outcomes are not bringing direct benefits to the people, such as the case in point.

The problem is because no one is taking ownership in delivering those services and information to the people that need it.

The resolution to this would be to revamp the defunct Public Services Commission (PSC) who has the supporting framework to deliver government services, including information dissemination.

I can remember the good old days when the 'Didiman' went to the villages with their patrol boxes and nurses came around to the villages during 'skel-dei'. Even in the technology era, where almost everyone has a mobile phone, yet, vital services and information is not reaching the targeted audience.

Are we going forward or back, or stagnant?

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