Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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A tragedy behind closed doors

Millions of children across the Pacific are experiencing high levels of domestic violence, including in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. For the vast majority of children, this violence is happening in a place where they should feel safest: their homes and communities.

By ChildFund Australia

The following story contains content that may be distressing for some readers.

Elizabeth* is four years old but she already bears the painful scars of abuse that far too many people experience in life.

Elizabeth is from a poor community in Papua New Guinea, where domestic violence – mainly against women and children – is common in families and households. For months, Elizabeth, was physically abused by one of the people who should have loved her most – her father.

Elizabeth had been left in the care of her father when her mother needed to move far away for work.
It was about a year after Elizabeth had moved in with her father when her aunt, Maggie*, discovered the abuse. Elizabeth’s father had sent images of the abuse to Elizabeth’s mother, threatening to kill her and Elizabeth.
Maggie* was terrified for Elizabeth’s life. She had learnt about a phone counselling service for survivors of violence, the 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain, through a text message campaign, and called the helpline.
Maggie shared her story and fears with a helpline counsellor, who provided her with support and reported Elizabeth’s case to police, and welfare and child protection services.
The counsellor helped Maggie access emergency funds so that Elizabeth could be removed from her father as soon as possible and move into a safe place with Maggie.

Today, Elizabeth is living with her mother again. Elizabeth’s father has been charged, and Elizabeth and her mother have protection orders in place.

Maggie has been in touch with the helpline counsellors, providing them with updates on Elizabeth’s wellbeing. She said Elizabeth and her mother were both safe and living at peace. All this would not have been possible, Maggie said, without the support of the counsellors and emergency funds that were secured through the 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain service.

*Names have been changed to protect individuals’ identities.

‘Our mothers, sisters, daughters and wives are suffering from a weak protection system’  

Millions of children like Elizabeth across the Pacific, including Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, where ChildFund works, are experiencing high levels of domestic violence including physical, emotional and sexual abuse, as well as neglect. For the vast majority of children, this violence is happening in a place where they should feel safest: their homes and communities.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, reports of domestic violence increased around the world along with social isolation, unemployment and alcohol use.

In Papua New Guinea, more than 2 in 3 women and girls experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Ivodia Malio, a Senior Counsellor with the 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain, said the rates of violence in Papua New Guinea were “concerning”.

“There is a great need for family and sexual violence services to work together to develop better strategies to address the high rates of violence in the country,” she said.

“The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain is doing great work to assist vulnerable women and children to be safe. Perpetrators are also calling the helpline for support to change their abusive and violent behaviours.”

Ivodia’s colleague and fellow helpline counsellor, Simon Karapus, said domestic violence services in Papua New Guinea needed to be overhauled and strengthened: “Our mothers, sisters, daughters and wives are suffering from a weak protection system,” he said.

The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain is the first toll-free helpline for survivors and perpetrators of violence in PNG. It was established in 2015 by ChildFund and local partners in response to PNG’s high rates of violence.
Helpline counsellors have received more than 50,000 calls since the service was launched in 2015. The success of the helpline has led to ChildFund supporting a similar crisis counselling service in the Solomon Islands.

In the Solomon Islands, 2 in 3 women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. More than a third of these women experienced sexual abuse as a child.

The success of the 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain service in Papua New Guinea has led to ChildFund supporting a similar crisis helpline in the Solomon Islands.

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How your donation can protect children from domestic violence

Ensuring children are safe and free from domestic violence is a collaborative effort between development organisations such as ChildFund, and children, their communities, and local governments.

With your help, vulnerable children and their families can access the immediate and long-term support they need to be safe. ChildFund is working with local partners to provide not only services such as crisis counselling and referrals to safe houses, we are also working with governments and communities to strengthen child protection systems. Your donation will also help educate and empower young people to raise awareness and lead advocacy activities in their communities that focus on peace promotion, conflict prevention, and respectful relationships.

Helplines and counsellors: Train and upskill counsellors for Papua New Guinea’s 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain service, which provides immediate and long-term support to survivors of violence.

Youth Peace & Protection Champions: Educate and empower young people to raise awareness and lead advocacy activities in their communities that focus on preventing and resolving conflicts peacefully, prevention of violence, and respectful relationships.

Child protection frontline workers: Train social workers, counsellors, village court officials, and staff at safe shelters and family support centres, on women’s and children’s rights, and case management.

You can help stop violence against children.

Donate today

World Health Day is held annually on 7 April and marks the founding of the World Health Organisation in 1948.

For more than 70 years, this day has been used to increase public knowledge and awareness of important health issues.

From diabetes, vaccinations, and breast-feeding; to depression, road safety and physical activity, World Health Day generates global attention on the most significant health and wellbeing topics of our time.

A focus on health equality

In the face of COVID-19 pandemic, a polluted planet and increasing incidence of diseases, the theme for World Health Day 2022 is: Our Planet, Our Health.

This theme will bring global attention to urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy, and foster a movement to create societies based on wellbeing. 

The Constitution of the World Health Organization (WHO) states that the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being, regardless of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.

However, the reality is that an individual’s birthplace can determine the ease in which they can access nearby, affordable, quality healthcare.

The impact of a global pandemic

According to the World Health Statistics 2020 report, only 33-50% of the world’s population was able to obtain essential health services in 2017.

With healthcare systems in many countries overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that this access has reduced even further for thousands of children and families since 2020.

The report says: “The COVID-19 pandemic not only draws into focus the need to rebuild resilient health systems with increased access to quality health services, lowered financial cost and a strengthened health workforce, but also calls for the provision of services such as routine vaccinations and basic hygiene and sanitation.”

Obstacles to accessing quality healthcare

For children and families in developing communities, there are three major obstacles to accessing essential healthcare:

Location: In remote and rural areas, health clinics can be located at significant distances from communities. This is often compounded by a lack of public transport, with families needing to undertake long journeys on foot, as they cannot afford other transportation options.

Resources: Even where clinics are established, government budgets may constrain the services they are available to provide. With a shortage of qualified staff, and an even greater shortage of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, these clinics may only be able to offer the most basic of care.

Cost: Children and adults with more complex conditions will generally require the services available at hospitals located in urban centres. While public health systems may offer care that is free of charge, funds are still needed to cover travel, accommodation, and food costs. As they are foregoing earnings during this time, the total sum needed to access quality healthcare can be out of reach for low-income families.

You can support health and wellbeing for all this World Health Day by purchasing one of ChildFund Australia’s Gifts For Good. Healthcare gifts that can be donated to those in need include COVID-19 Protection Kits and Birthing Kits for Mothers.

Supporting rural communities to access healthcare

ChildFund’s health programs are focused on increasing access to healthcare among children and families, by driving both community and systems change, particularly in remote and rural communities.

In Timor-Leste, ChildFund is training Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) to address high levels of child malnutrition and maternal mortality.

CHVs like Augusta regularly monitor the growth and health of children in her village, referring them to a health professional when required, and providing advice to parents and caregivers on hygiene and nutrition.

Augusta also supports pregnant and new mothers, recommending that they deliver babies in health facilities rather than at home, and the importance of breastfeeding.

In Papua New Guinea, with COVID-19 infection rates soaring, ChildFund is working with PNG’s Department of Health to ensure rural communities can still access essential healthcare, even where local clinics have closed.

ChildFund PNG’s Integrated Community Health Outreach Services are delivered in remote villages  with the help of ChildFund staff and district health personnel.

These outreach services bring vaccination, antenatal care, tuberculosis/HIV/malaria screening, family planning, growth monitoring, health promotion, and other priority health services to rural villages.

In Zambia, ChildFund is focused on reducing preventable deaths from malaria. The world’s most deadly vector borne disease is particularly dangerous among children, with 57% of malaria mortalities occurring among children under the age of five.

ChildFund Zambia is responding by:

  • educating children and their families about how to recognise the symptoms of malaria;
  • testing children and their families for malaria and providing referrals to treatment; and
  • providing families with insecticide-treated mosquito nets.

Health and wellbeing for all

ChildFund Australia health adviser Tracy Yuen says: “In recent decades, we have made significant progress towards achieving improved health outcomes around the globe.

“Life expectancy is increasing, while child and maternal mortality rates have reduced significantly.

“However, if we are to meet targets within Sustainable Development Goal 3 –  ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages  – we need to be better prepared for future global health emergencies, and provide targeted support in those regions where enormous disparities continue to exist in terms of access to quality care.”

You can help increase access to quality healthcare for all this World Health Day. Donate one of ChildFund Australia’s Gifts for Good, or create your own health-focussed Fundraising Event in support.