Two Pacific Island nations – Fiji and Papua New Guinea – have been ranked among the least active countries in combating human trafficking abuses such as forced labour, bonded labour, sexual exploitation and child labour.
Both countries were cited in the “least active” tier 3 group of countries in the ninth annual Trafficking in Persons Report released by the US State Department this week, focussing on international governments’ efforts to eliminate human trafficking.
The report ranked 173 countries.
The 17 tier 3 nations – also including Cuba, Iran and North Korea - purportedly do not comply fully with the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and “are not making any significant efforts to do so”.
Only two other Pacific Island Forum countries were cited – Palau and Micronesia (both on the tier 2 “watch list”).
From the region, Timor-Leste was also ranked tier 2, while Australia and New Zealand were both grouped in tier 1, indicating full compliance with TVPA.
In the report, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on all governments to “build consensus and leverage resources” to eliminate human trafficking.
Findings were based on information gathered from US embassies overseas, government officials, NGOs and international organisations, published reports, and other research.
Forced labour The TIP review described Fiji and PNG as both “source” and “destination” countries for commercial sexual exploitation, forced labour, as well as the trafficking of children.
Individual country reviews said: “Fiji is a source country for children trafficked for the purposes of labour and commercial sexual exploitation, and a destination country for women from China, Thailand, and India trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation.”
It also said family members, other Fijian citizens as well as foreign tourists continue to exploit boys and girls for commercial sex.
In Papua New Guinea, women and children are reportedly trafficked for sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, while men were trafficked to logging and mining camps and forced to work. These include victims trafficked from Malaysia, Thailand, China as well as the Philippines.
The report also claimed that “unique and enduring cultural practices” in PNG reinforce the perception of females and children as commodities, such as trading females for guns or to settle debt.
The island governments were recommended to make stronger efforts to prosecute human trafficking offenders, protect the victims, and prevent further abuse.
At the same time, the report said the rankings were “based more on the extent of government action to combat trafficking than on the size of the problem”.
At the National Cultural Commission's Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, a team of local researchers has the mountainous task of recording the traditional knowledge of PNG societies.
With some 814 distinct cultures, Ralph Wari, the institute's director, freely admits that they have hardly touched the surface of local language, customs, arts, and music. But with limited resources, the team must record and archive as much material as possible as well as disseminate it, in many cases to help ensure its survival.
While most of the collected materials are currently residing at the institute's Port Moresby base, Wari is hoping that the internet will prove a useful tool in making the vast stores of local knowledge more widely available.
The Institute of PNG Studies is one of several potential information providers taking part in a project coordinated by the University of Papua New Guinea's South Pacific Centre for Communication and Information in Development (SPCenCIID) and funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) as part of its Pan-Asia Networking (PAN) programme.
The project – named PAN Information Networking and Services Papua New Guinea (PINS-PNG) – will lead to an information server being established and encourage institutions to publish electronically. Similar PAN country-level information servers have been funded in the Philippines, Vietnam and Nepal by IDRC.
PINS-PNG aims to bring together some of the country's best sources of local content to build up a PNG presence on the internet, as well as provide training for relevant organisations, and encourage the distribution of research materials within the country.
With one of the largest pockets of biodiversity in the world, PNG has long been a focal point for researchers from all parts of the globe.
Unfortunately, the same enthusiasm given to collecting data is not extended to its dissemination within the country.
Big potential John Evans, a lecturer and book publisher within SPCenCIID and project leader for PINS-PNG, says that much of the research is published outside of the country and often does not make it back.
When it does, it is often limited to one location and its availability is not known elsewhere, particularly in outlying areas where much of it originates. To counter this, Evans will coordinate efforts to make more research information available through the internet as a result of the project.
“People used to go off and write their report somewhere else and it never got back again,” he says.
“Now people might be more inclined to put summaries of their research on the net.”
Locally, there is certainly no shortage of information providers with an abundance of potential content.
For the project, seven organisations have been identified initially - the Institute of PNG Studies, the University of Papua New Guinea, the National Parliament Library, the Government Office of Information and Communications, the Small Business Development Corporation, the National Association of NGOs (NANGO), and the Melanesian Institute.
Papua New Guinea has itself only been connected to the internet since 1997. But since then there is a growing awareness of its potential and no shortage of ideas on how best to use it within the context of PNG resources.
The film portrays the life of her German great-uncle, Father John Nilles, who travelled to PNG in 1937 as a Catholic missionary, and made Simbu his home for the next 54 years.
“When I showed it to the locals I saw how excited people were about video and to see themselves on screen. I felt there should be more films about Papua New Guinea,” she said.
She is now working closely with Mike Mel at the University of Goroka on a project to train new filmmakers through a participatory approach.
They expect to produce at least three short films as an outcome.
Negative image Thomas was also concerned about the negative image in the Australian media about their Melanesian neighbour.
“Australians don’t have a good idea of what Papua New Guinea is really like,” she said.
“What comes through the media is usually about Port Moresby and crime - bad things.”
Film was an “empowering” avenue for Papua New Guineans to tell their own positive stories.
Participants at the AUT screening also discussed the issue of development, highlighting the role of missionaries such as John Nilles and making comparisons to today. “By and large, missionaries were in there for the long haul, not like some aid workers nowadays who come in for a short time, and then move on to the next job at the UN or World Bank,” said John Woodward, a member of the audience.
He had lived in Papua New Guinea with his family for seven years in the 1970s, setting up an electrical engineering department in one of the schools.
Verena Thomas added that for researchers, including filmmakers, there is a duty to consult and give back to the community being studied.
“You don’t just go in there. There are certain responsibilities you take on board when you do that,” she said.
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