Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill denies the traditional practice of “bride price” is to blame for the country’s high level of domestic violence.

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Gender violence rates in PNG are among the highest in the world with 70 per cent of women experiencing rape or sexual assault, according to Human Rights Watch.

Those on the frontline, such as the counsellors at Haus Ruth, a Port Moresby women’s shelter, believe “bride prices” are a huge factor.

Misunderstandings between wives and husbands from different tribal groups, money troubles, and sex contribute to the problem.

“But one of the biggest factors is bride price,” the Haus Ruth manager, who asked to remain nameless, told AAP.

“The man thinks the woman is his property, and she becomes a slave and must do everything that he wants.”

If women don’t comply, the consequences can be deadly.

Bride prices range from 2500 Kina ($A1187) to 300,000 Kina ($A142,481) and are paid to the woman’s family.

If women leave relationships there are added complications around paying back the bride price.

In the past it had been paid with token gifts such as pigs, but now as more PNG citizens become wealthier it has become a status symbol.

Australian Federal Police Detective Sergeant Michelle Harris has been in Port Moresby for two years, advising and training the Royal PNG Police Constabulary and special family and sexual abuse units on how to properly deal with women and children who have suffered rape and domestic violence.

“There’s a perception with the bride price that the husband bought (the wife) it’s his entitlement to treat her however he wants,” she told AAP.

The PNG prime minister doesn’t agree.

“It is a customary exchange of gifts on the occasion (of the wedding) it’s not about paying to take ownership of someone,” Mr O’Neill told AAP in Port Moresby.

The idea that men who paid a bride price had a sense of ownership over their wives and could therefore do what they liked was “absolutely a foreign concept”.

“It’s blown out of proportion to say someone is paying for a bride.”

At some stage his government may consider regulating the practice because it puts financial burdens on young people, Mr O’Neill said.

The PNG government only outlawed domestic violence in 2013 and is now beefing-up child protection laws as well as increasing resources to counselling services and safe houses.

ChildFund and its partners launched PNG’s first domestic violence hotline in August which operates sevens days a week.

So far it has handled 400 calls with a 50/50 gender split.

Tasmanian volunteer Lauren Hart said men were asking for help to control their anger.

“To have someone to call to discuss options other than beating your wife, that’s massive,” she told AAP.

* To donate to Haus Ruth contact visit citymission杭州桑拿会所,.pg/

* Readers seeking support and information can phone the Australian national domestic violence helpline: 1800 737 732 or 1800RESPECT. In an emergency call triple-zero.

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