Papua New Guinea schoolgirls face sexual harassment
Gender inequity in Pacific nation is growing issue
The Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea is applying itself towards
greater gender equality, and creating more opportunities for women and
girls. Literacy and education are a way to achieve these goals -
however, schoolgirls here are at high risk of domestic and sexual
violence, sexual harassment in schools, commercial exploitation and HIV.
Traditionally, girls in Papua New Guinea can be married and with children as early as 12 years old.
Many of the young girls interviewed by FSVAC were already mothers.
Cultural and social barriers in Papua New Guinea force girls and young women to domestic responsibilities and customary marriage, as early as 12 years old. The International Center for Research on Women estimates that a third of girls in the developing world is married before 18 years and begin child-bearing before 20 years.
The education department's gender equity strategic plan stresses the need for educators to provide more activities in schools for females and train all staff in gender sensitization and sexual violence awareness.
Philip Afuti, president of the PNG teachers' association, is committed to gender equality. He points to the fact that in his school, 80 percent of teachers are female, and that there are 630 male and 523 female students.
"We want to see the girls have an equal opportunity as boys in the education system," Afuti declared. "They should be able to build this nation in partnership. We want to see that. PNG will only develop when both males and females are educated."
This year, the national government rolled out a free and subsidized education policy, which has impacted female enrollment. Students attending elementary to grade 10 at secondary school do not have to pay tuition fees while those in grades 11 and 12 only have to pay 25 percent of their fees.
"We have increased the numbers of females enrolling," Afuti verified. "Some who left a few years ago have also come back."
He is quick to add that there is only so much the system can do. "The government has taken a bold step to abolish school fees at the basic education level, thus addressing a critical access barrier, enabling more children to be enrolled and complete a full cycle of education," Kukari explained.
"However, at this juncture, the education system does not have the absorptive capacity to accommodate all children wanting to enroll and to provide a sufficient number of teachers to ensure that children are provided with a quality education as well."
There are also inadequate mechanisms of support for school-going girls suffering from sexual abuse. "If there are avenues for redress to such offenses, these are not made known to students and parents," Wainetti said.
"It is unfortunate that many teachers will not do anything about these abuses until the parents of the girl or boy turn up at the school to beat up the students who have been harassing their child," Wainetti said.
© 2012, Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
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Keywords: Papua New Guinea, schoolgirls, sexual harassment, education
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