Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, gang rape, and intimate-partner violence, was a serious and widespread problem. In a 2013 UN survey, 80 percent of men in one province admitted perpetrating physical and/or sexual violence against a partner. A 2013 study by the Institute for Medical Research indicated 55 percent of women experienced spousal rape. According to Amnesty International, approximately two-thirds of women in the country were struck by their partners, with the figure approaching 100 percent in parts of the Highlands. Due to stigma, fear of retribution, and limited trust in authorities, most women did not report rape or domestic violence to authorities. Gangs used rape and violence against women as part of initiation.
Rape, including spousal rape, is a crime punishable by imprisonment ranging from 15 years to life. The legal system allows village chiefs to negotiate the payment of compensation in lieu of trials for rapists. The law criminalizes family violence and imposes penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment and up to 5,000 kina ($1,615) in fines in an effort to end the cultural practice of providing compensation to victims. Implementing regulations were not complete, however, and the law was not in effect.
Police committed widespread sexual violence and the unresponsiveness of authorities to complaints of sexual or intimate-partner violence deterred reporting of such crimes. The law criminalizes intimate-partner violence, but it nonetheless persisted throughout the country and was generally committed with impunity. Since most communities viewed intimate-partner violence as a private matter, few survivors reported the crime or pressed charges, and prosecutions were rare. The law also gives legislative backing for interim protection orders; allows neighbors, relatives, and children to report domestic violence; and gives police the power to remove perpetrators from their homes as a protective measure. Implementation of the law remained incomplete.
There were 17 family and sexual violence units in police stations across the country. The government established these units with donor support to provide victims with protection, assistance through the judicial process, and medical care. Nevertheless, comprehensive services for victims of domestic and sexual violence were lacking in most of the country. This lack of services, along with societal and family pressure, often forced women back into violent and abusive homes.
Those convicted of rape received prison sentences, but authorities apprehended and prosecuted few rapists. The willingness of some communities to settle rape cases through material compensation rather than criminal prosecution made the crime difficult to combat. Traditional village familial networks, which sometimes served to mitigate violence, were weak and largely absent when youths moved from their villages to larger towns or the capital.
Human Rights Watch reported there were only five shelters for abused women in Port Moresby, all run by faith-based organizations, which were often at full capacity and had to refuse women in need of counseling and shelter. The situation was worse outside the capital, where small community organizations or individuals with little access to funds and counseling resources maintained the shelters.
Violence committed against women by other women frequently stemmed from domestic disputes. In areas where polygyny was customary, authorities charged an increasing number of women with murdering another of their husband’s wives. Independent observers indicated that approximately 90 percent of women in prison were convicted for attacking or killing their husbands or another woman.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride price payments continued to increase. This, and the common practice of polygyny, contributed to the perception by many communities that husbands owned their wives and could treat them as chattel. In addition to being purchased as brides, women sometimes were given as compensation to settle disputes between clans, although the courts ruled that such settlements denied women their constitutional rights.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is not illegal, and it was a widespread and severe problem. Women frequently experience harassment in comments, touching, and unwanted advances in public locations and in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children, free from discrimination, violence, and coercion. The decision of the husband or male partner on such matters, however, usually prevailed over the wishes of the woman. Although women did not face barriers to reproductive health care stemming from the law or government policy, logistical problems faced by the Health Department in distributing supplies hindered access. Medical facilities also were limited in their capacity to provide adequate reproductive and maternal health services to the growing population. According to the UN Population Division, 29 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2014. The country’s estimated maternal mortality ratio was 215 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015. Skilled care at birth was estimated at 53 percent, mainly due to an acute shortage of midwives, poor accessibility, lack of adequate delivery facilities, and low levels of trust in public services.
Discrimination: Although the law provides extensive rights for women dealing with family, marriage, and property disputes, gender discrimination existed at all levels. Women continued to face severe inequalities in all aspects of social, cultural, economic, and political life. Some women held senior positions in business, the professions, and the civil service, but traditional and deep-rooted discrimination against women persisted. Women, including in urban areas, were often considered second-class citizens.
Village courts tended to impose jail terms on women found guilty of adultery while penalizing men lightly or not at all. The law, however, requires district courts to endorse orders for imprisonment before the imposition of the sentence, and justices frequently annulled such village court sentences.
The Ministry of Religion, Youth, and Community Development is responsible for women’s issues and has considerable influence over the government’s policy toward women.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through birth to a citizen parent. Birth registration often did not occur immediately due to the remote locations in which many births took place. Failure to register did not generally affect access to public services such as education or health care. There were no differences in birth registration law between girls and boys.
Education: The law provides free but not compulsory education through grade 10 and for subsidies thereafter under the government’s tuition-free policy. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the country’s net enrollment rate was 63 percent. Despite the policy, many schools charged fees, however, and only one-third of children completed primary school. Primary and secondary education completion rates tended to be slightly higher for boys than for girls. This was due to cultural and social barriers, including the burdens placed on girls of family care, domestic responsibilities, and customary marriage. Recent reports confirmed that girls were at high risk of domestic and sexual violence, sexual harassment in schools, commercial exploitation, and HIV infection, which posed serious threats to their education.
Child Abuse: In September, Save the Children released the results of a small-scale study showing that 70 percent of children faced physical or emotional violence and that 50 percent faced sexual violence or family violence in the home. The study found that child protection systems, especially in rural areas, were not adequate to meet the needs of children facing abuse, and that there was a need for a formal reporting structure. Other studies found that only the most egregious forms of sexual and physical abuse of children were reported to police, as family violence is viewed as a domestic matter. Although the country passed a Child Protection Act in 2015 to strengthen child protection efforts and compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, implementing regulations were incomplete as of November.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. There is a lower legal marriage age (16 for boys and 14 for girls) with parental and court consent. The Child Protection Act of 2015 changes the legal age of marriage for both girls and boys to 18 and criminalizes marriage before 18, with a penalty of fines between 10,000 kina ($3,230) and 20,000 kina ($6,460) and jail terms of five to seven years. To implement this change, the Marriage Act must be amended, which had not happened as of November. A UNICEF survey covering the years 2005-2013 found that 21 percent of women ages 20-24 had married before the age of 18 and 2 percent had married before the age of 15.
Customary and traditional practices allow marriage of children as young as age 12, and early marriage was common in many traditional, isolated rural communities. Child brides frequently were taken as additional wives or given as brides to pay family debts and often were used as domestic servants. Child brides were particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse. Lack of resources and access to remote regions hampered the government’s ability to take steps to prevent child marriages and enforce the law.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: In some cases, especially in rural areas, members of the husband’s family in divorce proceedings took children as compensation for their contribution to bride price payments.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The maximum penalty for violators is 25 years’ imprisonment or, if the victim is under age 12, life imprisonment. Child pornography is illegal; penalties range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment, but enforcement remained a problem. There were cases of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of children in urban areas, including of minors working in bars and nightclubs. There were reports of exploitation of children through the production of pornography and that both local and foreign children were subjected to sex trafficking. NGO sources reported increased prevalence of child sex trafficking.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There was no known Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental disabilities. Persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities faced discrimination in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, and provision of other state services. In 2015 the government launched a national disability policy aimed at removing barriers faced by persons, including children, with disabilities. Most buildings and public infrastructure remained inaccessible for individuals with disabilities. Generally, families took care of persons with disabilities at home, and there was no formal reporting of abuse in educational or mental health facilities. Children with disabilities suffered from the under-resourced educational system and attended school in disproportionately low numbers. The government endorsed sign language as a national language for all government programs, although access to interpreters was limited.
Through the National Board for the Disabled, the government granted funds to a number of NGOs that provided services to persons with disabilities. The government provided free medical consultations and treatment for persons with mental disabilities, but such services were rarely available outside major cities. In several provinces, apart from the traditional clan and family system, services and health care for persons with disabilities did not exist. Most persons with disabilities did not find training or work outside the family structure (see section 7.d.).
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Consensual same-sex sexual relations and acts of “gross indecency” between males are illegal. The maximum penalty for same-sex sexual relations is 14 years’ imprisonment; for acts of gross indecency between male persons (a misdemeanor), three years. There were no reports of prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons under these provisions during the year. There were no specific reports of societal violence or discrimination against such persons, but they were vulnerable to societal stigmatization, which may have led to under-reporting.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
There were no reports of government discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; however, there was a strong societal stigma attached to HIV/AIDS infection, which prevented some persons from seeking HIV/AIDS-related services. A survey in two provinces indicated up to 11.5 percent of HIV/AIDS positive-respondents were physically assaulted for their HIV/AIDs status and 31 percent stated they were denied health services at least once. The NGO Business Coalition against HIV/AIDS and other NGOs worked to combat discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Press reports of vigilante killings and abuses continued to increase and became more common in urban areas. Many killings were related to alleged involvement in sorcery and witchcraft and typically targeted the most vulnerable persons: young women, widows without male sons, and the elderly. The government repealed the controversial Sorcery Act in 2013, which had provided a defense for violent crime if the accused was acting to stop witchcraft. In 2014 the government called partners together to draft a sorcery national action plan, but no funding had been released for implementation. The national government lacked the capacity to enforce these laws or change the traditional beliefs underlying sorcery-related killings. However, some provincial governments in the Highlands have set up police units specifically charged with responding to sorcery incidents. These police units met with limited success, especially when entering villages where they were outgunned and outnumbered.
During one week in October in Port Moresby, three women and one man were found dead after being brutally tortured. Police stated the deaths were related to sorcery accusations. Observers concluded that the number of women tortured and killed for alleged sorcery was increasing. Some suggested internal migration and urban drift led to sorcery-related killings in districts formerly without such violence. Many also believed perpetrators used sorcery-related violence to mask violence against women or for revenge. Reliable data on the issue remained elusive. Many cases went unreported and there was no comprehensive analysis of the drivers of sorcery-related violence. In some incidents, victims of sorcery-related violence were harassed, tortured, and subjected to public humiliation for days before being released, rescued, or killed.
Long-standing animosities among isolated tribes, a persistent cultural tradition of revenge for perceived wrongs, and the lack of law enforcement were factors underlying frequent violent tribal conflict in highland areas. During the year tribal fighting continued in the highlands provinces. Deaths and the numbers of IDPs resulting from such conflicts continued to rise due to the increased availability of modern weapons. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimated that approximately 22,500 persons had been internally displaced as a result of tribal fighting and natural disasters. The ICRC estimated the number could be as high as 110,000. There were no reliable estimates for deaths caused by tribal fighting.