1 Aug 2007

Hard hitting report on sexual exploitation of children in Solomon Islands released

10:18 am on 1 August 2007

A hard hitting report on the sexual exploitation of children in Solomon Islands by workers in logging camps is resulting in calls for government action.

The report focused on the Arosi region in Makira province.

Linda Skates reports.

The stories in the report are chilling with young girls facing sexual exploitation or abuse by the workers.

"I was taken by my father to visit the camp. He works there, At the camp, I saw Malaysian men touching their house girl's breasts. I don't want to go to the camp now. My dad's boss gives me money, gum and lollies. He tells me to hurry up and grow up because I look really pretty."

The Church of Melanesia's Christian Care Centre compiled the study, which took in 12 villages in Arosi region, close to adjoining logging camps.

A clinical psychologist at the centre, Dr Tania Herbert, says there were 12 reports of girls being sold into marriages by their parents or entering into early marriages under the legal age of 15, a range of sexual abuse cases, and pornography was a problem.

But, Dr Herbert says the most prominent type of exploitation was that of prostitution, making up more than half of the 73 cases.

That was children ranging from age 11 to 19 with most of the children being aged 13 to 15. So, sometimes the children themselves were visiting the camps and exchanging sex for money, or other goods like rice or noodles or chewing gum, things like that. And, sometimes it was the parents who were organising for the children to go there.

The president of the National Council of Women, Hilda Kari, says sexual exploitation of children has been an issue for a long time.

She says the government needs to act now.

They should reconsider looking at all these development areas in the logging industry; what kind of people are in the field, whether or not they should be bringing foreigners to be in the employment sector in this area or using Solomon Islanders in this labour force, rather than bringing these people who are causing these problems.

The loggers often operate in remote areas and the report states that the ease with which the men can access the children is compounded by the lack of accountability.

For example, the nearest police station to the Arosi region is in Kira Kira, several hours away by boat and the villagers say there's been little in the way of government agencies checking on what's happening at the camps.

Mrs Kari says they need to be more closely monitored by the government.

They rely so much on logging as much of their revenue collection, and every time we talk about this area in terms of issues, it's very hard to get through to them but we believe that the Solomon Islands government - it's time for them to do something for their people rather than just thinking about the money side of things.

The villages in the Arosi region are now more aware of the consequences and Dr Herbert says there have been some changes as a result.

Some of the girls who were going to the logging camps are no longer going there. One of the villages has now set up extensive signage and has imposed a ban on children going in to the camps. I mean, this is a huge issue. This is a terrible, terrible problem that's happenng in the Solomon Islands at the moment and we need to really address it.

Copies of the report are being distributed to the logging companies concerned but there's concern the practices are far more widespread than just the Arosi region.