For a couple to marry in Papua New Guinea, it is traditional for the soon-to-be husband to pay a bride price to his betrothed’s family. This bride price is set by the bride’s family and can be paid in goods or cash. If the couple decide to divorce, the bride’s family must pay the entire payment back to the husband. This tradition is one aspect of the PNG culture that contributes to the objectification and abuse of women. With the high inflation of bride prices, women are often left in difficult and potentially abusive relationships, because they or their families unable to repay the bride price. The ingrained view of dominant husbands and submissive wives coupled with the high payment for marriage, men can become entitled and view women as a prize or object to command. This subservient view contributes to PNG’s high rate of sex trafficking.
Along with the bride price tradition, tribal leaders commonly exchange the servitude of girls or children to forge political relations. Parents have been reported to prostitute or sell their children to brothels to pay for family expenses.
“Children, including girls from tribal areas as young as 5 years old, are reportedly subjected to commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor by members of their immediate family or tribe.”
If separated from their husband or forced to beg for family income, women and girls can also be lured into sex slavery by promises of work and income. Men and boys are also trafficked for slavery working in logging and mining camps. Altogether, the Papua New Guinean government has made small steps towards addressing and preventing the trafficking of its people and foreign visitors.
PNG enacted the Criminal Code Amendment of 2013 that outlaws human trafficking like sexual and labor forms including penalties of a maximum of 20 years imprisonment for adult trafficking and 25 years imprisonment for child trafficking. Yet, in 2016, the government of PNG did not prosecute any perpetrators of human trafficking as reported by the U.S. Department of State. This trend has been pervasive in PNG with sparse convictions of trafficking and cases of trafficking offenses dropped on the basis of little evidence. Trafficking cases in the criminal courts were referred to tribal courts where no perpetrators were imprisoned and traffickers were forced to pay only restitution to victims. In the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report for PNG, the national government is not making efforts to meet minimum international standards for eradicating trafficking. Instead, international organizations are the ones identifying victims, yet the national government sentenced 12 of the 21 identified victims of trafficking to prison for illegal entry into PNG.
“A major barrier hindering PNG’s progress is the presence of trafficking-related corruption at high levels of government, for example through the acceptance of bribes to allow illegal migrants to enter the country or the trading of female trafficking victims for political favours and votes.”
The government does not provide any services or support for trafficked victims nor has prosecuted any offenders. No investigations of government officials regarding sex slavery were enacted in 2016 either. With the government and culture of PNG behind human trafficking, the pervasive slavery climate has become the norm of the country. With further international regulation from the National Human Trafficking Committee and work with NGOs and international organizations, PNG should make continuous progress towards decreasing human trafficking and increasing victim support.
International steps towards the recognition and eradication of human trafficking are being made under the table through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
According to the article, Born Free by Sarah Mendelson, Sustainable Development Goals are the new sources for international awareness of human trafficking. The SDGs previously replaced MDGs or UN Millennium Development Goals that focused donors and organizations alike on specific issues in developing countries like HIV infections and extreme poverty. The new goals, SDGs, include vague references to human trafficking by supporting gender equality, decent work for everyone, and inclusive societies. It is documents like the UN’s Outcome Document that continue to perpetrate human trafficking by not specifically addressing the issue. In fact, the Outcome Document talks about “trafficking” of wildlife.
“We recognize the economic, social and environmental impacts of illicit trafficking in wildlife, where firm and strengthened action needs to be taken on both the supply and demand sides.”
There needs to be more awareness and education about human trafficking rather than only supporting gender empowerment and equal opportunity.
Without broadcasting trafficking as an international, urgent problem, governments like PNG may not be pressured or highly regulated to eradicate the practice. Human trafficking can be eradicated through awareness and support of the public, donors, governments, and the global community to create accountability and action for this modern-day slavery.