Death of PNG mother renews calls for action against domestic violence

11:51 am on 10 July 2020

Outrage at the violent death of a woman in Papua New Guinea, allegedly at the hands of her partner, has renewed calls for something to be done to stem pervasive domestic violence.

The death of 19-year-old mother Jenelyn Kennedy in Port Moresby last month, the latest victim in a plague of violence, saw mass protests across the country calling for something to be done.

Advocates who have spent years making that call say much of the legislation is already in place. The problem is the powers that be are not doing anything about it.

Jennelyn Kennedy, a 19-year-old mother of two, was killed in June in an act of domestic violence that prompted national outrage.

Jennelyn Kennedy, a 19-year-old mother of two, was killed in June in an act of domestic violence that prompted national outrage. Photo: Facebook / Jennelyn Kennedy

According to the Human Rights Measurement Initiative's 2020 Pacific report, Papua New Guinea is the most dangerous place in the region for women and girls.

A researcher who has spent more than 20 years researching gender based violence, Fiona Hukula, said it has been a year since she challenged prime minister James Marape to do more to curb the violence.

As of today, she said, nothing has changed.

"I've said this time and time again and I'll continue to say it, we have all these plans and laws in place. I believe we don't need to change laws," she said.

"What we need is enforcement from the legal fraternity, especially beginning with the police and we also need things like that national strategy to be implemented."

The prime minister's first anniversary in the job, according to Dr Hukula, has been marked with the violent assault of athlete Debbie Kaore and the brutal murder of Ms Kennedy, whose bloodied body arrived at Port Moresby hospital on 23 June.

The police said she had endured days of torture before she was delivered to the emergency department that night.

Fiona Hukula

Fiona Hukula Photo: Fiona Hukula

The head of the emergency department, Dr Sam Yockopua, arrived at the hospital for his shift the following morning, and was told of Kennedy by the night shift team.

He took to Facebook to express his outrage and anguish in a post that went viral. It prompted candlelit vigils, street marches and, once more, calls for action.

The NGO Development Council responded to Jenelyn Kennedy's death with a renewed call for action to address gender-based violence.

Factors leading to her death, the council said, included a system which allowed underage marriage, gender norms that legitimised violence and the failure of the country's law, justice and health sectors.

Dr Hukula said this is well known. Parliament had already endorsed a national strategy to prevent and respond to gender-based violence. And it was up to them to ensure it was implemented.

"While we don't have any women in parliament, it's the duty of those parliamentarians who are in there to also always remember that half the population are women and that many of these women who helped put them in parliament," she said.

"So their duty of care is to all of us."

Her views are echoed by Kinime Daniel, a social worker and counsellor at the confidential toll-free helpline, 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain.

"They have a lack of knowledge of where the services are and how to go forward in terms of accessing them, and a lack of knowledge in terms of the acts and the laws that we do have in existence in the country," she said.

"So it will help them to move forward if they are very knowledgeable of the acts, the laws."

Daniel said a review was needed to establish how services to support existing policies and laws were being implemented.

Whatever the government was doing now was not working, she said.

Jennelyn Kennedy.

Jennelyn Kennedy. Photo: Facebook / Jennelyn Kennedy

"The policies, the laws that are in place need to be reviewed and the acts implemented so that women or children faced with violence, the acts and the laws are played out well on their getting the service that is needed."

Another NGO, ChildFund, works with the 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain.

Addressing social attitudes needs to be given higher priority according to its PNG country director, Bridgette Thorold.

She said women need the support of counselling and legal services, and police need better training to deal with family violence.

But attitudes had to change as well, she said, particularly among young people.

"To build up an approach and a mindset where violent responses to frustrating situations are not tolerated and other ways of dealing with negative and frustrating emotions become a greater norm than what currently exists," she said.

If you are or know of someone experiencing family violence, the 1 Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain can be reached in PNG on freephone 7150-8000.