Number of children living on PNG streets increasing

6:37 pm on 28 February 2015

Papua New Guinea's government is hoping revised child protection laws will put a halt to increasing numbers of children forced to fend for themselves on the streets.

Papua New Guinea towns of Lae and Port Moresby (pictured) have growing traffic pressures.

An increasing number of children have been left to fend for themselves on the streets of Port Moresby. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

The updated Lukatim Pikinini Act will allow courts to declare a child the responsibility of the state if they can't be re-homed.

But child advocates have said tinkering with legislation will do little to solve a much larger problem.

The number of children left to fend for themselves on the streets of Papua New Guinea's capital, Port Moresby, begging in order to buy necessities, seems to be increasing.

Our correspondent Todagia Kelola said many of the children were either orphans or have been abandoned by their parents.

"These street kids, they just go and they start begging or they don't go to school although their age requires that they have to be in school," he said.

"But they don't have a parent or somebody who can look after them and send them to school and all that."

Governor of Port Moresby Powes Parkop said there was no way to gauge just how many children there are on the city's streets, but he said it was getting worse.

"It's a new phenomenon emerging in our capital city, in our country," Mr Parkop said. "But children are vulnerable people who can be easily taken advantage of, and given the lack of clear policy and law, that is the concern I have at present."

Powes Parkop

Powes Parkop says the situation is getting worse. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Community Development Minister Delilah Gore this week announced the revision of the country's child protection laws to allow the courts to declare a child the responsibility of the State.

Ms Gore said the amended Luakautim Pikinini Act would try and re-acquaint street kids with relatives in other parts of the country, and hold parents who abandoned their children accountable for their failures.

"This law is just helping these children to put them in the right place so they are cared for and looked after, they're fed and educated," Ms Gore told local television.

Ms Gore said that in cases where children could not be placed with relatives, they may be taken in to the State's care and put in what she calls out-of-home care centres.

But the founder of a charitable group that works with vulnerable children in Port Moresby, Father John Glynn, said he knows of no such centres and the government needed to do more than merely tinker with legislation.

Father Glynn said that while he supported the changes, social agencies were struggling to cope with the skyrocketing number of street children.

"I don't know what the ultimate solution is," he said.

"[But] the government is going to really have to focus on the problem and put serious money - really big bucks - into cleaning up the whole area of social services, of caring for people in need."

Father Glynn said the government had its priorities wrong when it's investing hundreds of millions of dollars in roads and stadiums, while Port Moresby only has three gazetted child protection officers.

"The problem is getting worse, not better," he said.

"The city is getting desperately overcrowded. Nobody know the population of the city, we certainly don't know how many children there are. There are so many on the streets.

"My little organisation, we're overcome by the demands that are placed on us sometimes," Father Glynn said.

The new legislation will be tabled in Parliament when it sits next month.