PORT MORESBY (RNZ PACIFIC/THE NATIONAL) — A woman who was part of a group kidnapped in Papua New Guinea in February has spoken out after the kidnapping and reported rape of 17 schoolgirls in the same area of Southern Highlands earlier this month.

Cathy Alex, the New Zealand-born Australian academic Bryce Barker and two female researchers, were taken in the Bosavi region and held for ransom.

They were all released when the Papua New Guinea government paid the ransom of US$28,000 to the kidnappers to secure their release.

Alex, who heads the Advancing Women’s Leaders’ Network, said what the 17 abducted girls had gone through prompted her to speak out, after the country, she believed, had done nothing.

A local said family members of the girls negotiated with the captors and were eventually able to secure their release.

The villagers reportedly paid an undisclosed amount of cash and a few pigs as the ransom.

Alex said she and the other women in her group had feared they would be raped when they were kidnapped.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape shared a photo on Facebook of two of the hostages, including professor Bryce Barker, after their release.

“My life was preserved even though there was a time where the three of us were pushed to go into the jungle so they could do this to us.

“We chose death over being raped. Maybe the men will not understand, but for a woman or a girl rape is far worse than death.”

Alex said they had had received a commitment that they would not be touched, so the revelations about what happened to the teenage girls was horrifying.

She said her experience gave her some insight into the age and temperament of the kidnappers.

“Young boys, 16 and up, a few others. No Tok Pisin, no English. It’s a generation that’s been out there that has had no opportunities. What is happening in Bosavi is a glimpse, a dark glimpse of where our country is heading to.”

The teenage girls from the most recent kidnapping are now safe and being cared for but they cannot return to their village because it is too dangerous.

Cathy Alex said there is a need for a focus on providing services to the rural areas as soon as possible.

She said people are resilient and can change, as long as the right leadership is provided.

Bosavi is one of the remotest areas in PNG, with no roads and few services

It suffered significant damage during earthquake in 2018.

Meanwhile, PNG Prime Minister James Marape delivered a heartening message this week urging Christian women not to lose hope in their sons amid growing social challenges facing young men in the country.

Addressing the audience at the National United Foursquare Women (UFW) Convention 2023 in Port Moresby, Marape emphasised the importance of supporting and embracing troubled sons within the family, church, and community.

The prime minister said he was committed to fostering positive change, supporting the youth, and working alongside faith communities to build a stronger and prosperous Papua New Guinea.

“We must not abandon our sons who may be causing distress in our homes, churches, or communities,” Marape said with conviction.

He highlighted the Government’s second-chance education programme, encouraging the congregation to welcome these young men into their churches.

Marape shared his pride in the programme’s success, stating: “Over the past four years, we have provided a new lease of life to 50,000 young men and women through second-chance education programme.”

Recognising the pivotal role of the church as a source of positive influence and guidance, Marape extended his call not only to the Foursquare Church but to all faith communities across the nation.

“In addition to Grade 12 completion, we will provide comprehensive small business training and employment opportunities in Australia for these individuals,” he said.

In a passionate appeal, Marape urged mothers within the church not to be discouraged or disheartened by their sons’ challenges, rather they should embrace and support them.

By doing so, he believed that these young men would in turn become protectors and advocates for the women in their neighbourhoods, be they daughters, mothers, or sisters…. PACNEWS

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