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While the exact number of sex workers in PNG is not known, the United Nations has estimated that as many as two in three girls aged between 15 and 24 in Papua New Guinea have exchanged sex for money, food, shelter - or even payment school fees.

Prostitution, brothels and homosexuality are all illegal in PNG, and women and men who choose to sell sex do so at their own risk and outside the health, security and other controls that regulate sex industries in other countries.

Her sternum tattoo below the neck was called "frigate-bird," and the branching elements on her abdomen "centipede." The turtle-shell motif appears on her legs above the knees, and the "fluttering" or "flying spark" motif represents the lines tattooed on the face.

This was not an uncommon practice in Papua, because tattoo pigments did not show up well on dark complexions.

Tattoos were generally inked upon women in a fixed order among all coastal Papuans.

First, girls between five and seven years of age were tattooed on the backs of hands to the elbows and from the elbows to the shoulders.

Girls between seven and eight were tattooed on the face and lower abdomen, the vulva and up to the navel, then the waist down to the knees and the outside of the thighs.

As far back as the old men and women can remember, tattooing has been a tribal custom of the coastal peoples of Papua New Guinea.Pasu Aiyo, Lidia's husband, tells me this is what happens."When you get sick, you get better or you die." But for the glow from the campfire, it is impenetrably dark.Located high in the cliffs, sometimes requiring a treacherous climb up vines, caves are also natural fortresses that once protected the Meakambut from their enemies: headhunters and cannibals and bride stealers. Now their enemies are less violent yet no less deadly: malaria, tuberculosis.Pasu shoos away Biyi, their hunting dog, and sits down by the fire.The Papua New Guinea government brought in the new laws after being criticised in June by the UN, which said that authorities were doing nothing to prevent the attacks. Legs and arms but knobby sticks, Lidia Maiyu is curled up close to the campfire. She coughs, her body convulses, and she cries out in pain. Three months ago she gave birth, and the baby died; the group left the body in a cave and moved on.The rapes were mainly by customers (63 per cent), but the girls' regular boyfriends or husbands were almost as often the culprits (61 per cent), followed by members of the country's notorious street gangs, known as Rascals (31 per cent).The workers also suffered physical beatings in high numbers: Almost 70 per cent reported being bashed in the past year, most often from relatives (43 per cent), but also their husbands (27 per cent) and others they knew.Among the Motu, Waima, Aroma, Hula, Mekeo, Mailu and other related southwestern groups, women were heavily tattooed from head to toe, while men displayed chest markings related to their exploits in the headhunt.By World War II, however, tattooing traditions largely disappeared in these areas and today only the Maisin and a few neighboring peoples of Collingwood Bay in southeastern Papua remain as the last coastal people to continue tattooing itself.

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