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Women in Papua New Guinea's village courts

CollectionsANU Dept. of Pacific Affairs (DPA) formerly State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Program
Title: Women in Papua New Guinea's village courts
Author(s): Goddard, Michael
Keywords: compensation
village courts
Papua New Guinea
customary law
patriarchal forms of social control
Date published: 2004
Publisher: Canberra, ACT: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) Program, The Australian National University
Citation: Goddard. M. (2004). Women in Papua New Guinea's village courts. SSGM Discussion Paper 2004/3. Canberra, ACT: ANU Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program
Series/Report no.: State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) discussion paper series: 2004/3
Recently, claims have been made in academic literature that women are disadvantaged, or mistreated, in Papua New Guineas village courts. These claims have the common theme that the male-dominated courts, particularly in the highlands, apply custom or customary law which discriminates against women. Reviewing research-based studies, other literature and my own research findings, I suggest herein that, to the contrary, village courts are an important resource for aggrieved women with limited avenues for seeking justice and recompense. Village courts in PNG were established by the Village Courts Act of 1973, at the end of the colonial era. The legislation provided for magistrates, untrained in law, to be selected by the local community on the criteria of their integrity as adjudicators and good knowledge of local customs (Village Court Secretariat 1975: 1). Despite overwhelming support among Melanesian parliamentarians and progressive legal advisers for the establishment of village courts, there were fears among conservative jurists and other Europeans that these courts would be legally or otherwise corrupt and that village court officials ignorance of the law would result in the application of anachronistic customs. Consequently, when village courts began to be proclaimed in 1975 after a trial period, they became the focus of European officials who were anxious to observe their practice. Some of the first village courts proclaimed were in the Mendi district of the Southern Highlands, and these were almost immediately visited by concerned European officials.
ISSN: 1328-7854


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