An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

To Beat?

There is an interesting public debate that has started in the press here as to whether alternative punishments for crime should be looked at, specifically whether public caning, whipping or beatings should be brought in.

It was raised by a national court judge, Justice Gibbs Salika, and he was quoted in the Post Courier saying "We should go back in time to impose beatings and lashings in regard to crimes like robbery and rape because it has customary connotations and biblical support". He seems to think this will work to deter violent crime because it will shame offenders.

From a western point of view this of course seems barbaric and antiquated. We scoff at Singapore when they lash teenagers for defacing walls with graffiti or throw away chewing gum. But the question I have been wondering is it really such a bad idea. Singapore's crime levels are certainly low.

There is an important point that the Judge brought up, not the bit about biblical support but about the bit about shaming the offenders. I have been told this a few times in PNG - and I gather this is the same in other Melanesian countries - guilt is almost non-existent. If a man does a wrongful act he will not feel guilty about it later.

Instead PNG is a shame country. If a man does this wrongful act and then his entire community finds out and condemns it, the man will feel shame - a loss of face. Carry this on further and have a public humiliation of the person in front of not just his family, village and wantoks, but the entire public and the shame will be overwhelming because he has brought about a loss of face not to just himself but to everyone associated with him.

As the judge notes the public humiliation and shaming would do more to reduce crime than the current sentences of a relatively easy prison stay (besides they seem to break out often enough anyway). In some ways I agree with this approach especially when looked at in cultural point of view. In other ways my liberal western views of right and wrong are against the use of violence to counter violence.

If there is one thing I have found out since being here, it is that PNG is a violent place already (I wrote about it a while ago). A public lashing would be a popular event. Certainly the police would have their job cut out for them to keep the crowd from wanting to have a go.

It will be interesting to see where this debate heads. Something certainly needs to be done to reduce crime, as the levels are pretty critical at the moment.