Papua New Guinea: New Community Justice System Seeks Empowerment of Women and Children
Wednesday, May 16, 2012 11:30 AM

In 2007 the Village Court Secretariat initiated the Women and Children’s Access to Community Justice Program. The program, which is funded by UNICEF, hopes to extend the rights of women guaranteed under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (ratified in 1995) and the rights of children guaranteed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified in 1993) to the largely rural population of Papua New Guinea. At present, village courts administer justice in 90 percent of all villages, and traditionally, village court magistrates do not have formal legal training. Instead, they rely on local customs to deliver “restorative justice” and even cases of serious violence are not usually referred to the appropriate authorities. For example, Roseanne Koko, senior counselor at Eastern Highlands Family Voice, an NGO that serves victims of domestic violence, explains that the typical response to domestic violence is mediation and compensation to extended family members.  This leaves the needs of the victim unaddressed and increases the likelihood the perpetrator will reoffend.

The recognition of continued widespread violence against women and children has compelled the government to initiate this program. The hope is that better training of village magistrates and an increase in the number of female magistrates will begin to address issues of gender inequality.  Preliminary indications of the program’s impact are positive. UNICEF conducted a program evaluation in 2010 and found “progress for women in accessing justice through the village courts and a significant increase in community members' awareness of children and women's rights” in districts where the program has been implemented thus far.
Compiled from: Wilson, Catherine, Women and Children Look to Community Justice, Inter Press Service (8 May 2012).