A march planned by community leaders in Papua New Guinea's East New Britain province is aiming to break down taboos about incest in PNG society, and to press the police and the judiciary to do more to bring offenders to justice.
The main organiser, Rosemary Savek from the community action organisation Malaguna, says the experience of her own family has prompted her to push for greater public awareness of sexual crime, and a stronger response from the legal system. And she says support for the march on April 9th is growing day by day. Richard Ewart from Radio Australia interviewed Rosemary Savek, community action organisation Malaguna.
“We have been affected by issues of incest, rape and all forms of sexual violence and like an experience in the family, that we had to report the matter to police - on the 15th August, 2011, and to date nothing has been done about it, like no enforcement agency, like the police, having to do an investigation, arrest and then prosecution. This has not taken place.”
Q: Presumably though, the purpose of the march is not so much to deal with that particular case, which is obviously personal to you and your family, but to draw attention to the wider issue, because I gather you're belief is that this is by no means an isolated case?
“Yes, it's going to be a multi-sectoral approach on all forms of violence, but it's going to come from the civil society and all stakeholders and we're working with the police, I've spoken to the Provincial Police Commander, New Guinea Highlands, Anthony Wagambie, and the Police Station Commander in Kokopo, Inspector Duadak, and they want to support us and they were going to walk with us and if there is a petition they are willing to accept on behalf of the civil society to the government.”
Q: And what is the demand contained within that petition, what is it that you're asking government to do?
“What we're planning to do is to tell them that 38 years down the line, after Independence, they should have some teeth on the laws, the court system or from the police that can land people behind bars. The resource is there, but they're really not working. The mechanism is there, but I think it's the officers involved, like community development and police are not working for the community or people that have been affected.”
Q: Presumably though, in cases of incest, that is a particularly difficult case for the authorities to investigate, if, for no other reason, it's a subject that people are very, very reluctant to talk about in Papua New Guinea and incest isn't even acknowledged is it in certain sections of PNG society?
“Yeah, I think that they are taboos and they're cultural and sometimes, when we ask for information or witnesses to come out, people don't seem to see the importance of how they're going to play their role or contribute to a particular case.”
Q: Why do you think the instances of incest anecdotally at least are on the increase? What has changed in PNG society when for so many years, incest was not just a taboo as a subject, but it was something that nobody would imagine would happen?
“I think one is the population boom and the other thing we've built our houses, we don't have like the rooms, it's just an open space and the family is sleeping there and maybe that is one contributing factor. And the other thing is that in the past, our ancestors used to value culture and the practices very separate and important. But today, a brother must walk away from the sisters or like in laws, or if I have a brother in law, I'm not allowed to walk in front of him or I have to take the other turn and sisters and brothers are not allowed to play together or physical touching and all that, that has contributed a lot, that more than technology has come into place and I think that mobiles and tv's have contributed as well.”
Q: So, if nothing else, I would imagine that once you've had the march on the 9th of April, one of things that perhaps you would like to see is more people at least talking about the issue and acknowledging that there is an issue?
“Yeah exactly, that is what we're looking at, everybody has to come in and then speak out.”