What is the legality of prostitution in Papua New Guinea?

Is Prostitution Legal in Papua New Guinea?

Prostitution in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is illegal under the Summary Offences Act, which prohibits living on the earnings of prostitution and keeping or managing a brothel. However, the law does not specifically criminalize the act of exchanging sex for money. This ambiguity has led to widespread confusion and inconsistent enforcement of the law.

What Are the Laws, Penalties, and Law Enforcement Measures Regarding Prostitution?

The main legislation dealing with prostitution in PNG is the Summary Offences Act, which contains several provisions related to the sex trade:

  • Section 55: Prohibits living on the earnings of prostitution
  • Section 56: Criminalizes keeping or managing a brothel
  • Section 57: Prohibits letting premises for use as a brothel
  • Section 58: Criminalizes tenant or occupier permitting premises to be used as a brothel

Penalties for these offenses range from fines to imprisonment. However, the lack of specific criminalization of sex work itself has led to inconsistent law enforcement measures. Police raids on brothels and arrests of sex workers are common, but the legal basis for such actions is often unclear.

How is Prostitution Referred to Locally in Papua New Guinea?

In Papua New Guinea, prostitution is often referred to as selling betel nut or selling smoke in local slang. This euphemism reflects the cultural stigma attached to sex work and the desire to keep it hidden from public view. It also highlights the close association between the sex trade and the widespread use of betel nut, a mild stimulant commonly chewed by people in the region.

What is the History of Prostitution in Papua New Guinea?

Prostitution has a long history in Papua New Guinea, with evidence of sex work dating back to the pre-colonial era. The arrival of European explorers, traders, and missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries led to an increase in prostitution, as local women were often forced or coerced into providing sexual services to foreign men.

During World War II, Papua New Guinea became a major battleground in the Pacific theater, and the presence of large numbers of foreign soldiers further fueled the growth of the sex trade. In the post-war period, rapid urbanization and economic development have contributed to the continued prevalence of prostitution in the country.

What Government Laws and Resources Exist to Address Prostitution?

Despite the criminalization of certain aspects of prostitution, the Papua New Guinea government has taken limited steps to address the issue. Some notable efforts include:

  • In 2006, the National AIDS Council Secretariat (NACS) launched a Sex Work and HIV Strategy, which aimed to reduce the spread of HIV among sex workers and their clients. The strategy emphasized the need for targeted interventions, including condom distribution, voluntary HIV testing and counseling, and peer education programs.
  • In 2013, the PNG government passed the Family Protection Act, which seeks to address domestic violence and gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation and abuse. The act establishes a legal framework for the protection of victims and the prosecution of perpetrators.
  • The PNG government has also collaborated with international organizations, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to combat human trafficking and protect vulnerable populations, including sex workers.

Despite these efforts, the government’s response to prostitution remains inadequate, and sex workers continue to face significant risks, including violence, exploitation, and health hazards. Comprehensive legal reform, increased social services, and targeted interventions are needed to address the complex and multifaceted issue of prostitution in Papua New Guinea.

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