The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill, presides over a country where, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, the women are the most abused in the world outside of a conflict zone and where they “…endure some of the most extreme levels of violence in the world,” according to the Lowy Institute. (Reported in an article published in The National by journalist Grace Maribu.) Over this humanitarian crisis the Prime Minister expresses his “outrage” – but does little.
When the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea finally came out with a press statement on the recent torture of a six-year-old girl over four days at the hands of a baying, adult male mob, it was with ‘weasel words’.
In the statement, he called for “Community and Church action…,” rather than his own; he condemned the attack and the attackers (whom he called a few names) and thanked the people (not him) that took decisive action to save the small girl.
He also condemned the practise of Sanguma, praised Christianity and the good Samaritans that helped save the girl and promised to keep doing what he’s been doing – working with the churches and communities as well as the RPNGC “…to end these false beliefs and to protect the lives of all Papua New Guineans.”
But why would he continue doing what he’s doing when, in the NCD (Port Moresby and surrounds) only two convictions have resulted from the 414 cases handled by the Family Sexual Violence Action Committee Secretariat between 2016 and 2017? This is in spite of legislation enacted in 2013 that was meant to protect women and girls against violence? (The Family Protection Act)
Indeed, since 2013, violence has just escalated both generally – gender-based violence (ie men beating and killing women) – and specifically – accusation-based violence (involving supposed witches) even though 2013 not only saw this legislation enacted but also the PNG Sorcery Act repealed.
It’s no coincidence that this was also the year that the mother of the tortured child, Kepari Leniata was herself tortured and burned alive as a witch. The incidents are linked.
Clearly, the response was inadequate.
There’s absolutely no point in providing a recipe if there are neither the requisite cooks nor the ingredients available to bake a cake (ie – to effect an outcome). Peter O’Neill either knew that or should have.
In spite of the Prime Ministers expressed condemnation at that time, the perpetrators of the murder of Kepari have never been brought to justice – had they been perhaps this little girl would not now be in bandages from her neck to her ankles. Violence against women is a low-risk crime in Papua New Guinea. Whose fault is that?
I mean, if the definition of madness is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome then Peter O’Neill must be mad – but I don’t think so.
In PNG, it is men who win elections for their candidates and although women can vote, they usually vote as their menfolk dictate. A consummate politician, Peter O’Neill knows that. The right to beat women is enshrined in the psyche of many PNG men, especially in the Highlands, where the Prime Minister’s constituency is located. Clearly, it is not good politics to antagonise one’s electoral base.
If we were in that mythical land of Oz, Peter O’Neill wouldn’t be the character without a brain: the Scarecrow, – his lukewarm response is patently politically shrewd. No, he’d be the Tin Man: the one without a heart.