Free Domestic Violence Hotline Launches in Papua New Guinea

By Svetlana Shkolnikova, Staff Writer

Victims of domestic abuse in Papua New Guinea, widely considered perhaps the worst country in the world for gender-based violence, received a critical lifeline this week in the form of a toll-free national crisis hotline.

Funded for the next five years by donations from the ChildFund Australia charity and aid from New Zealand, the "1-TOK KAUNSELIN HELPIM LAIN" phone line will allow survivors of family and sexual violence to seek confidential counseling and guidance on medical care, protection and various support services, from safe houses to family support centers.

Professional counselors fluent in the country's three national languages will initially take calls eight hours a day, seven days a week, and then 12 hours per day starting in October.

"The avenues available for survivors to seek help are severely lacking, while entrenched attitudes around violence and gender inequality only complicate the issue," said ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence at the hotline's launch on Aug. 19. "This hotline is about providing those who are experiencing violence with a safe channel to seek help.”

In Papua New Guinea, where domestic violence was not outlawed until 2013, few women and children are left untouched. 

About 70 percent of women experience rape or assault in their lifetime, according to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report, with minimal, if any, repercussions for the abuser. ChildFund Australia estimates that more than half of rape victims who end up in a hospital are under 16-years-old, one in four is under 12-years-old and one in 10 is under eight-years-old.

Fears of black magic and a male-dominated culture continue to fuel witch hunts in the country's largely rural and remote communities despite the government's 2013 repeal of a law that criminalized "sorcery." Women, believed to be biologically predisposed to witchcraft due to the traditional notion that evil spirits reside in the womb, account for a disproportionate number of attacks.

While NGOs have made progress in addressing gender violence in recent years by setting up successful family support centers and funding education initiatives, ChildFund Australia expects the hotline to make the largest impact.

Three in four residents own a mobile phone, according to the charity, making the hotline the most effective way to reach victims.