PNG children are being sold so families can make ends meet, welfare workers warn

Welfare workers said the sale of children is an increasing trend. (AAP/ChildFund Australia)

PORT MORESBY,28 SEPTEMBER 2018 (ABC) – In less than two months, the world’s most powerful leaders will be in the Papua New Guinea capital for the APEC summit, meeting behind closed doors in a newly built, multi-million-dollar convention centre.

But on the streets of Port Moresby and in regional towns, welfare workers are warning of an increasing trend of parents selling or abandoning their children.

Peter Nepil, a child protection officer for Western Highlands province, said he was approached last month by a woman in the highlands town of Mount Hagen who offered to sell him a baby girl, aged just two-and-a-half months.

According to Nepil, the woman was asking for 2,000 kinas (AUD$846), but he bargained her down to 1,500 kina, which is just over AUD$600.

Nepil said he then called the police under the guise of arranging the money.

In May in the same town of Mount Hagen, local man Daniel Pamenda said a woman offered him a baby boy for about $400 (US$288).

Welfare officials said the sale of children is becoming more common as people flock to towns from rural areas and struggle to make ends meet.

“It’s not only in the highlands, it’s happening everywhere in Papua New Guinea as far as I’m concerned, but actually these types of matters are not reported,” Nepil said.

Simon Yanis, acting CEO for the Office of Child and Family Services, said he knows of two other recent cases, these ones in Port Moresby, but suspects there are more that do not make it to welfare agencies.

Yanis said his office was in the process of establishing a national child welfare council in order to strengthen child protection networks and surveillance across the country.

Children in Papua New Guinea are often cared for by a network of family members under the traditional “wantok” system and informal adoptions or foster arrangements are relatively common.

But Yanis has taken to local media in recent days to urge people to report the sale of children to local authorities.

The sale of children is illegal under the national Lukautim Pikinini, or Child Welfare Act of 2015, and punishable by up to five years in prison.

Tessie Soi, who runs the Friends Foundation in Port Moresby to support people living with HIV/AIDS, said she is also seeing more HIV-positive children abandoned at hospitals during treatment by family members.

“I believe it’s getting worse and I think it’s because families are saying to me that their financial situation is not so good,” she said.

In the latest trafficking report from the US State Department, it noted that the PNG Government “maintained minimal efforts to prevent trafficking” and downgraded the country to tier three, its lowest rank.

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