24 Jun 2013

Growing market in PNG capital for child prostitution

5:26 pm on 24 June 2013

The founder of a charitable organisation in Papua New Guinea's capital says there is a growing market for child prostitution in Port Moresby.

A recent report in the Post Courier newspaper cites a 30 percent increase in the number of minors doing sex work in nightclubs.

Father John Glynn is a retired Catholic priest who has lived in PNG for almost 50 years and several years ago founded WeCare, which works with children and young women in squatter settlements. He spoke to Annell Husband.

JOHN GLYNN: I certainly know that the problem is there and it's very, very great. We encounter child prostitutes all the time. I'm thinking of one group of young homeless kids who live together in a little gang. The girl members of that group disappear for hours of the day, even one or two days at a time, and come back with money that they use to provide themselves with food and the other things that they need. None of the boys ask the girls any questions about how they raise the money. But it is the girls in that little group of street kids who provide the funding for them. And we presume, because nobody is really talking, we presume that the way the girls are able to do this, it must be from casual prostitution. There certainly is a huge market for it here.

ANNELL HUSBAND: How old are those girls?

JG: Well, they would be in their early teens, the ones I'm talking about. But the other young women we've encountered would be all the way up into their 20s, and that includes young women at school.

AH: You mentioned that there is a big market now for prostitution. It's a genuine way of these young people making money. Is that because of more money being around because of the development work that's going on in PNG, the resource development, I mean?

JG: I would say yes. There is a great deal of money in Papua New Guinea and there's' a lot coming in in the kinds of development that we're getting. And it is going to a particular section of the population. There's no trickle-down effect, really. So poverty is endemic and causes enormous problems. And I always tell people, poverty is the greatest destroyer of the human spirit. So, on the one hand, you have this enormous poverty and this desperate need for money. We have infants dying of starvation. And on the other side you've got people with money to burn in their pockets, with a traditional attitude, in many cases, towards women, that sees women as being put on this earth for men's convenience, I'm sorry to say that that is an attitude that's very prevalent in certain sections of population in Papua New Guinea. So there is a market for young women who are prepared to go along with it, and there's money to be made. We have clubs all over Port Moresby. Some of them indeed are very respectable. One young woman that I know who comes and does a bit of domestic work for me from time to time, she worked for many months in one of these clubs. And she told me she had been strictly warned - if she played up or got too friendly with any of the customers she would be sacked. At the same time, she told me that many of the customers did try to have their way with her, so to speak, to get her to meet them outside of work. She wouldn't do that because she knew she'd lose her job. So we do have some very respectable clubs. Unfortunately, we have the other kind, too. And some very, very young girls work in them in their early to mid teens.

AH: Is it something that the police are aware of, do you think?

JG: Yes, most certainly. Once again, that's another problem we have - one of the smallest police forces to be found anywhere in terms of how many cops there are per head of population and so on. So the police are severely handicapped in how much they can do and precisely what they can do. Also - there is no doubt about it - there is a culture of corruption within the police force, as well, and certain sections of the police are probably involved in the whole business of child prostitution and so on. But I say that with a little nervousness, really, because I know some wonderful police officers and I don't want to disparage the entire police force. But this culture does exist within the police force that gives support to this treatment of women, yeah.

AH: You mentioned that gang of children, and the girls go off and make the money and bring it back. What confidence would you have that, if they are engaging in prostitution, that they're protecting themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections?

JG: Well, no. They're not protecting themselves. They don't know how and it's an inconvenience. They're not protecting themselves. This is a very great problem. It's difficult to know. We're slightly handicapped here in our little organisation, in that we do not have the staff to deal directly and to take an active position in regards to these children like this little gang. What we're looking for is people in the community who will act with our support to provide what these abandoned and orphaned children, children living on the street, young women, are forced into these situations. We need people who will act to provide the needs for these kids. And we will then provide them with support, with training and everything else.