Feature Articles

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Logging sites potential breeding grounds for prostitution and corruption

By DERRICK KII REUBEN - Parliamentary Reporter

'SEPIK sex ring busted' as reported in The National (18/02/2010), is just a tip of an ice berg where our local women and young girls as well as students are lured into having sex with foreigners for money and other valuable items as well as with the hope for better lives.

Unfortunately, that story never went further to explain how long these immoral activities have been going on at the logging site, the origins of the company and the nationality of the employees.

There are far too many cases of similar incidents occuring everyday at logging sites throughout the nation and especially in the coastal areas. Exploitation of our young women has sadly gone unreported simply because no law enforcing agencies, woman groups or churches put up the fight against these perpetrators or aliens at the village level.
It is also a sad scenario when our government officials are involved and are collaborating in such illegal activities.    

 I first came to notice similar strange conduct and behaviors by foreign employees of an Asian owned logging company in 2003.
During December of that year a friend and I were on our way to my his village when we decided to spend two days at Boroai logging camp near Napanapa Oil Palm plantation in the Mile Bay Province.

In that camp I noticed with interest there were semi wooden houses constructed below hilltops which housed the expatriate supervisors and foremen while some of the locals who came from far distances just to get employed there were forced into 'dog cage' like long wooden structures divided into blocks without any sleeping utilities. It was mere open space with pure rough wooden floor and roofing.
These young men were full of muscles and energy and would not bother about the freezing cold and buzzing mosquitoes all night after the day's hard work starting from around 6:30 a.m and they would often finish late in the afternoon depending on what time they were picked up.

Among them some of whom I had the privilege of interviewing expressed with frustration how they were treated by their bosses who were of Asian origin.
One such notable mistreatment they raised was concerning their wages. Most of the new recruits were really underpaid. Even after long hours of work some of them would be paid on an hourly rate of K1.00 - K1.50. In a fortnight they would normally receive K75 - K90, all of which goes towards their living expense and nothing much was left to send to their families back home.
"If we were to stay back home we would hardly have any cash in our hands so we come here and work hard at least to earn something" one said with smiles on his face yet deep within one would easily tell he wasn't a happy man.
Even today Asian owned logging companies continue to pay our local workers at K1.50 to K1.80 per hour, which was the case during my visit last Christmas to Sabiribo village in the Abau District - logging is currently underway operated by Tion Cung, a Malaysian owned company.   This is in direct breach of National Minimum Wage Board approved rate. 
So life goes on for these young and middle aged men and women most of whom are illiterate or achieved formal education as far as grade 6. Each day brings greater challenges for them without somebody to fall back to air their concerns and grievances.
For the beautiful young girls, their engagements were for a different reason. They were given jobs like house cleaning, laundry, cooking and clerical office work. And what goes on behind closed doors is anybody's guess.
I had actually saw few pregnant girls residing at that particular camp and I was reliably told that they were victims of sexual abuse on a daily basis. 
I was also told that most of these young women were made pregnant in exchange for job engagement and on-the-spot cash payments for sex.
Literally, these foreigners of Asians origin had no respect for the customs and traditions that exists there.
What happens there is a direct result of the remoteness and nil existence of rural based economic activities that forced young men into slavery and girls are vulnerable to exploitation and losing their virginity to foreigners.
To make matters worse I could not see an officer from the National Forest Authority who would normally be stationed at the logging site to monitor all timber put down and being exported.
If there was any, they may have been based at Alotau, the capital of Milne Bay Province, which is about a hundred kilometers away from the logging site. What goes up in the jungle was all at the mercy of the logging company.
Bribery seemed prevalent at such a logging site when dealing with Government officials thus, last week's report in one of the dailies (18/02/010) concerning a senior female government officer among local girls involved in providing sexual favours to the foreigners in the East Sepik province was not a surprise to many. 
It is about time the National Government through its line agencies like the National Forest Authority, Labour Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Immigration tighten-up the existing laws as well as make new amendments to fix the loop-holes to ensure our land and its people no longer fall victims in the hands of foreigners. 

Author's note: The logging company that operated in the Boroai left when its contract expired and today there is no tangible development brought in by that company.     
For further information Derrick can be contacted on the following. Email: rderrickkii@yahoo.com.au

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