At just five years of age, Wendy has felt her father’s fury at first hand.
“[He] got the little girl, bashed her up and then lifted her up, face down, and threw her on the concrete,” says her mother, Kay. He split Wendy’s lip and injured her jaw.
Wendy has also stood, watching in horror, as her father whipped and stabbed her mother’s back and legs.
“[Wendy] just stands there and stares at us and cries and cries. It’s like a nightmare to her. In the night she doesn’t sleep properly. When she sleeps, she’s always calling my name.”
Kay’s husband has hit her with a hammer, stabbed her feet with kitchen knives, cut her with bush knives and whipped her with extension cords. Once he belted her from 10pm until Kay escaped the next morning at 5am. She hid in the bush before running to the police station.
“He used an empty bottle to hit me on the head and he also used a very big, long twig; it wasn’t dry. He used to hit me on my back and on my legs. I have bruises on my back. I have marks on my arms.”
Realising that their lives were in danger, police brought Kay and her children to Haus Ruth, a refuge for children and women in Port Moresby. Kay’s husband continued to menace them, making threats from behind the refuge’s security gates.
Family violence is widespread across Papua New Guinea. It is widely reported that violence occurs in more than two-thirds of all families. This extends to sexual and physical violence against children, with girls being especially vulnerable. The endemic violent abuse of women and children is recognised as the most pressing human rights issues in the country. Women are often reluctant to report incidents to the police, who rarely respond to complaints and are sometimes perpetrators themselves. Women prefer to resolve such issues through village courts or through mediation. But village courts are few in number and magistrates hear cases for a fee, which many women cannot afford.
Haus Ruth, which provides a refuge for children and women like Kay, is now being expanded through the EU financed Project HOPE: a House for Protection and Empowerment. Under this project, ChildFund PNG works in partnership with the City Mission-run refuge Haus Ruth in Port Moresby to improve the services and support available to child and adult survivors of violence. Activities include upgrading and expanding the accommodation available to provide safe refuge, including the provision of child-friendly facilities and services.
Tessie Soi, director of Family Support Centre at Port Moresby General Hospital explains what is needed:
"I think we’ve got to, starting from the top, get men respecting women. I know that the government can do a lot; we have seen economic boosts here. But we also need that social boost in our country to make sure that our women and children are safe."
Project HOPE also focuses on the recruitment and training of Human Rights Defenders in rural areas. These Defenders will help make the issue of family violence in communities more visible, to discuss it more openly and raise levels of awareness amongst communities of the rights of women and children under Papua New Guinean law and international declarations and conventions. As a woman from Central Province, who prefers to remain anonymous, describes the need for this awareness raising: "We understand [that violence is not OK], but men do not understand. We must have awareness for men and children for their rights.
Kay, 24, insisted her story be told. She refuses to let her husband silence her. It’s unclear where she will next find safety. She desperately wants to “live somewhere where he won’t bother me and the children again”.