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Extreme spike in domestic violence and mental health calls to PNG helpline: new report

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A new report released by ChildFund Australia has analysed over 50,000 calls made to its 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpin Lain in PNG over 2019-2021, and paints a concerning picture of the impact of the pandemic on increasing domestic violence and exacerbating mental health issues.

ChildFund Australia CEO Margaret Sheehan says the new report shows calls relating to mental health have increased by 263% since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The pandemic has placed an enormous amount of pressure on communities in PNG,” she said. “While we acknowledge the importance of lockdown measures, they have often meant that women were trapped with abusers, had limited access to support and family homes and have been at greater risk of domestic violence than ever before. “This new report shows that the pandemic has had a significant toll on mental health and has exacerbated existing domestic violence in PNG families.”

In the initial weeks of PNG calling a State of Emergency, the Helpin Lain phone lines slowed down.

“We had serious concerns that calls were reducing whilst women remained trapped with their perpetrators,” said ChildFund PNG Country Director, Anand Das says, “Sadly, as expected, we then experienced a sudden spike in calls in May as situations for many families reached a crisis point during lockdowns.

“Domestic violence remains a major issue here in PNG and we must do everything we can to protect women and children and help perpetrators to break the cycle,” Mr Das said. “It’s going to take a whole-of-community approach to reduce domestic violence, but we know that there is hope. Since starting the helpline in 2015, we have been engaging the community more and more to be aware of this issue and providing them with the tools and counselling they need.”

During 2019-2021, the Helpline also began providing general COVID-19 information and support.

“After the pandemic began, we were able to rapidly expand the Helpline in May 2020 to ensure we could provide all the support that communities in PNG might need during these turbulent times – this included referring callers onto the PNG National COVID Hotline when relevant,” Ms Sheehan said. “Helpline counsellors provided information about COVID-19, support for tuberculosis patients (whose treatment had been interrupted due to lockdown measures), and increased psychosocial support for those experiencing distress due to the virus and associated restrictions.”

ChildFund’s helpline service, is PNG’s first, and only, national telephone service, offering callers information, crisis counselling, safety planning, suicide intervention and referral to support services.

A service provider working on the helpline says, “Without the support from the 1-Tok, we would not have been able to support the children like we did. We would not have been able to accommodate them, give them food and ensure their safety.”

The report includes information from the most recent Demographic Health Survey 2016-2018, which found that 56% of Papua New Guinean women experienced physical violence in the 12 months prior to the survey and 28% of them have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

Photos of the helpline centre here

Media contact: Dishi Gahlowt, +61 434 159 833, dishigahlowt@essentialmedia.com.au

The full report can be found here:

Child-focused international aid agency ChildFund and Oceania Rugby will expand their program to strengthen safeguarding systems across rugby to Samoa, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, following commencement in Nauru in February 2020.

The wellbeing of young people participating in sport has become an increasing focus among International Sports Federations and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has recognised the importance of establishing policies and procedures to ensure children and adults participating in sport activities at all levels are safe from all types of harm and abuse.

As a Regional Association of World Rugby, Oceania Rugby is committed to ensuring rugby is a safe sport for everyone across the region both on and off the field.

The Safeguarding in Sport Project was first launched in late 2019, with ChildFund providing technical expertise, tools, training and support to Oceania Rugby to build safeguarding systems in-line with international best practice.

Oceania Rugby General Manager Bruce Cook said that rugby is committed to providing a positive and high-quality experience in all forms and at all levels of the game that starts with a foundation of safety.

“Working with ChildFund, Oceania Rugby is committed to establishing a culture and systems that prioritises safeguarding for all participants, and equally, we are committed to supporting our Member Unions to do the same,” Cook said.

The Safeguarding in Sport Project has 4 key objectives:

  • To create and sustain safe environments for children in sport through the development of safeguarding standards and processes at the regional and national level;
  • To address negative social norms with the aim of fostering positive behaviours and deterring harmful ones;
  • To establish a strong evidence base to strengthen learning and inform further development of safeguarding in sport initiatives (with a focus on Oceania); and
  • To support National Governing Bodies in establishing links with formal and informal service providers to support case management and response.

ChildFund Sport for Development Director Chris Mastaglio said: “Oceania Rugby’s determination to build an environment and supporting systems where all players – but particularly children – can thrive and feel safe is to be commended.

“We are really excited to be continuing our partnership with Oceania Rugby and their Member Unions in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Samoa and Solomon Islands to ensure that everyone engaging in rugby across the region will benefit from a safer environment, both physically and emotionally.”

The Safeguarding in Sport Project builds on learning and resources developed by ChildFund Australia through work with more than 30 sports organisations around the world.

ChildFund is recognised as a Pioneer Organisation in the International Safeguards for Children in Sport and 2017 was awarded the UNICEF Safeguarding Children in Sport Award at the Beyond Sport Global Awards in recognition of its work supporting sporting bodies to improve safeguarding practices.

As the regional governing body of World Rugby, Oceania Rugby has committed to supporting members to strengthen their safeguarding systems at all levels.