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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

School Gangs Become Major Problem In Lae, PNG
Vice Minister calls on focused effort to stop ‘cult gangs’

By Oseah Philemon

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Feb. 11, 2013) – An entire generation of young people in primary and secondary schools in Lae will lose their future if school gangs are not stopped immediately.

After 20 years of uncontrolled growth in schools, the cult gangs are stopping at nothing to increase their numbers and influence on students in just about all schools in Lae.

The Vice Minister for Education Gisuwat Siniwin wants these cult gangs in Lae schools weeded out once and for all.

And he has committed himself to raising the matter with the government to find solutions to it.

Mr Siniwin who is the immediate past principal of the Bumayong Lutheran Secondary School and Member for Nawaeb, said cult gangs have no place in schools and must be completely weeded out of the Lae schools as a matter or priority and urgency.

He has also spoken to Morobe Governor Kelly Naru about it and both leaders have expressed concern at the lack of action on this problem over the years.

Mr Siniwin said both he and Mr Naru will work together to return peace to Lae city schools and weed out all cult activities.

While political leaders talk about dealing with the problem, a prominent Morobean citizen says Lae City is sitting on a time bomb which has wired up its schools with a deadly fuse that is about to be set alight and explode.

Its school cult groups have become so entrenched it will need a major national effort to help clean up the evil that has spread its wings to every corner of the Morobean capital.

A large number – if not the great majority of young people in school belong to school cult gangs.

It is said that the typical age range of gang members were between 10 to 22 years old.

By all accounts, the number of youth gangs and their members in the city continues to grow.

There are estimates of 10 youth gangs with more than 15,000 members in the high schools and community schools in Lae city, according to highly placed sources in Lae.

These numbers are probably conservative estimates because the Morobe Education Board deny, often for political and image reasons, that there is any problem, especially in the early stages of youth gang development in the community.

A prominent citizen told the Post-Courier that Lae city has for the past several decades witnessed an enormous upsurge in population arising from several factors, key among these being the rural to urban population drift.

An uncontrolled growth of illegal settlements has exacerbated this problem. Improved health conditions have also led to higher birth rates.

While the population has increased, the National Government and Morobe Provincial Government have continuously failed to provide adequate infrastructure necessary to sustain good living standards and so a large population of the youth are frustrated.

Specifically, successive governments since independence in 1975 have failed to expand public access to education, which means that a large number of youths are out of school and illiterate.

Most are also unable to get jobs in the ever shrinking employment market despite the massive building and construction activities occurring in Lae city that are underpinning the billion kina resource projects like the ExxonMobil LNG; Lae Port Redevelopment; Hidden Valley and Wafi mines.

A prominent outcome of this failure has been the rise of gangs in the settlements of Lae and its surrounding urban villages.

The upsurge of these gangs has mostly been borne out of the need to earn a living and survive through activities which are mostly criminal in nature.

Youth gang related crimes have been growing since the 1980s, but little data exists about the extent and precise nature of crimes committed by gang members.

Gangs engage in a wide array of criminal behaviour, including those involving weapons and violence.

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