Religious sisters combat forced marriage in New Guinea

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Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara. Credit: ACN.

Religious sisters in Papua New Guinea are working to end forced marriage and child trafficking in the country’s remote northwest.

“Forced marriage is a major problem in Papua New Guinea. Girls are sold when they are only 13 or 14 years old. We want to help to change this tradition,” Sr. Maria del Sagrario told Aid to the Church in Need.

Sr. Maria is a member of the Argentina-based Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará. The religious institute’s six sisters in Papua New Guinea operate a hostel for young women in the Diocese of Vanimo.

The Vanimo hostel presently hosts 19 girls aged 13 to 19. Their parents sent them there to protect them from a traditional local custom of forced marriage.

Underage girls are often sold to men for marriage in exchange for pigs or other domestic animals. Even Christians frequently engage in the practice.

“Although Christians are numerous, the culture of the country is still far away from the influence of the gospels,” Sr. Maria said.

In response, the sisters are focusing on Christian education, especially for girls.

Their religious institute includes both contemplatives and women active in charitable initiatives. The sisters of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matará wear a crucifix with numerous symbols based on a late 16th-century carving by a member of the Matará tribe, an indigenous people in the north of Argentina.

The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need supports the sisters’ Vanimo hostel, which is currently being enlarged to offer sufficient space for the girls and the religious sisters. At present there is only one room available for the sisters’ use.

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