By BIRA'AU WILSON SAENI
SEXUAL exploitation of local girls and women is a major concern in Malaita province, a newly published research report has revealed.
The newly published report by WorldFish, which assesses the local impacts of logging on food security, fisheries, and well-being in Malaita revealed stories of sexual exploitation of local Malaita girls by foreign loggers.
The report was based on qualitative interviews conducted with 172 people; 84 men and 88 women in 23 villages in Are'Are, Lau and LangaLanga between November 2016 and November 2017.
It was revealed that sexual exploitation actually takes place in Malaita in the logging camps and log ponds, but nothing has been done to address the issue.
There is also nothing being done to stop the exploitation of this young female population of Malaita, who are now trapped in the middle of fake love, illusion, and sexual exploitation.
The report stated that about thirty-eight informants from all areas visited by the researchers freely mentioned the same issue of sexual exploitation, which took place under the cover of logging on the island.
These cases were never being reported publicly or to the responsible authorities.
Some of the local informants that were consulted have voiced their concern over the growing number of children born from sexual encounters between local (underage) girls and foreign (predominantly Malaysian) logging staff.
In the report, a woman from West Are'Are was quoted as saying, "we have around five 'baby Waku's (Asian), but the fathers are already gone.
"One of my cousins is currently six months pregnant from a waku too.
"She is only around 15 years old. She was in class four when she got pregnant."
In almost all cases, the logging staff left the girl with the child after the logging operation is done and do not take full responsibility for either the girl or the children.
“This has shifted the burden of looking after the child, to the girl and her parents,” the report stated.
In a place like Malaita, any child that has a foreign father is not eligible to inherit primary rights over land.
This is a difficult case, especially for boys who born under this circumstance.
The report pointed out that some girls who have been sexually exploited by foreign loggers are as young as twelve years old.
In West Are'Are, schoolteachers confirmed that three of their female students have left school because they involved in ‘log pond marriages’ - a type of marriage that takes place at the long pond and only lasted for the duration of the logging operation.
These relationships run very strongly against cultural norms as no proper bride price is paid and thus, compensation payments are requested for violating rules surrounding marriage and courtship, the report stated.
"The nature of the sexual encounters is considered exploitative even if the girl has consented to have sex.
"Girls are said to be having sexual relationships in exchange for relatively small favors to her and/or her family.
"Such favors may constitute money, a few iron sheets for the roof, a bag of rice, a carton of noodles or operating a logging machine to bring the family's logs down to the log pond for milling.
"While some parents are allegedly stimulating these arrangements, the general sentiment is that the short-term character of it all and the fact that no proper bride price is paid affects the girl's dignity.
"Thus, many mothers do not allow their daughters to visit logging camps and log ponds and in some operations women are discouraged from riding on logging trucks,” the report has highlighted.
In the published report, some parents also revealed that they have tried all they can to protect their daughters' safety; however, the task is impossible because they have to pass by logging camps and ponds to reach school or garden.
The report stated that securities at the campsites or log ponds were aware of the sexual exploitation of the local girls, but they are only concerned about the safety of the logging machines.
It was stated in the report that some communities have included in their agreement with the logging companies staff not to have affairs with local girls, but nobody thinks heavily about this as this offence has been repeated with many compensation being paid in the past.
"We have chiefs here, but they don't play their role.
“They should keep an eye on these things, but they don't.
“We (parents) are weak and the chiefs are weak too,” one of the respondents interviewed in the report said.
Report: Victims young as 12
By BIRA'AU WILSON SAENI