Data in Action: Spotlight on Papua New Guinea

By HRMI Researchers Livvy Mitchell and Natalie Speier.

The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) is the first global initiative to track the human rights performances of countries. This country profile focuses on the economic and social rights outcomes for Papua New Guinea. All data discussed below are available on our Rights TrackerSee also HRMI’s Research credentials. You are welcome to use and quote from this article with attribution.

Papua New Guinea, rich in resources, still struggles to fulfil its people’s human rights

Papua New Guinea is home to immense natural resources, including unique biodiversity and vast mineral deposits. However, PNG is struggling to translate its great natural wealth into the better enjoyment of economic and social rights for its people. 

The Papua New Guinean government has made significant legislative changes in recent years to bolster its respect of human rights. For instance, PNG passed the Family Protection Act in 2013, which criminalises domestic violence and provides a framework to combat violence against women.  

Papua New Guinea is struggling to translate its great natural wealth into the better enjoyment of economic and social rights for its people.

In terms of economic and social rights, PNG has also made efforts to increase access to healthcare and education. The government developed a National Health Plan which aims to improve primary care and make medical care more accessible to all citizens.

To reach the country’s goal of universal primary education, PNG introduced a Tuition Fee-Free policy in 2012 which allowed students to attend school free of charge. As a result of this policy, enrolment in basic education nearly doubled in 2014.

While the government continues to take steps towards improvement, critical changes must be made if Papua New Guineans are to enjoy their human rights to the fullest possible extent.

Despite improvements like these, large barriers to education, healthcare, and other quality of life rights remain.

PNG’s progress is greatly hampered by on-going government corruption and economic mismanagement. Nearly 40% of PNG’s population live in poverty; close to a quarter of children in PNG do not attend school; and the country’s underfunded healthcare system leaves 1 in 13 children vulnerable to death from preventable diseases. Access to nutritious food also remains an issue as evidenced by the large number of children experiencing stunted growth due to malnutrition.

While the government continues to take steps towards improvement, critical changes must be made if Papua New Guineans are to enjoy their human rights to the fullest possible extent. 

The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) uses award-winning methods to learn what improvements are possible within a country’s limited income. Some headlines from this article:

  • If PNG were operating at its full potential given its current resources, it would lift 4 million people out of poverty and make significant steps toward SDG 1 of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030.
  • If PNG were to operate at its full potential given its current resources, 402,000 more children under five could avoid stunting, and make significant gains toward SDG 2’s target of ending starvation by 2030.
  • If PNG were operating at best practice, 43,000 more children would have a much better chance of reaching their fifth birthday, contributing to SDG 3’s target of ending preventable deaths of children under five by 2030.
  • If PNG were operating at best practice, an extra 165,000 children would be enrolled in primary school.
  • If PNG used its resources efficiently, an additional 6.6 million people would have access to basic sanitation and an extra 6 million people would have access to water on site.

In this article you can read every section, to understand HRMI’s data in detail, or skip to the PNG-specific sections, for some examples of how PNG’s change-makers can use our data to work for human rights improvements.

How do HRMI’s data work?

HRMI data can help boost efforts to improve people’s lives in PNG by giving definitive scores measuring government performance on economic and social rights outcomes. Each rights score can then be used to show where change is needed most and how these changes can be achieved.

So, how does HRMI work? HRMI’s ground-breaking methodology allows us to score countries on how well they use their income for economic and social rights (ESR) outcomes. In particular, our current data focus on the rights to food, health, housing, work, and education. To calculate a country’s ESR scores we use the SERF Index methodology, developed by HRMI co-founder Susan Randolph and her colleagues Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Terra Lawson-Remer.

The SERF Index combines country achievement and country income to produce a ‘best practice’ benchmark that records the best results that any country has achieved over the last 20 years, at every income level. Each country’s current achievement level is then compared to the best practice outcome for its income level and given an ESR score as a percentage of that result. So any score that’s less than 100% is showing that there’s a gap between how that country is doing, and the best result of any other country with the same level of income.

The ESR scoring methodology takes income into account, so it can assess all countries on a level playing field. It can then be used to reveal how a country can improve its rights performance, and by how much, even without more income or resources.

When a country scores 100% on the performance of a right, it means that the government is keeping its human rights promises to do its very best for its people within the constraints of the country’s resources.  All countries can score 100%. Any score below 100% shows that there is realistic room for improvement, even at the country’s current level of resources. An underperforming country can use HRMI’s ESR scores to see which of their nearby countries are doing better and identify policy lessons from them.

There is a lot of cross-over between HRMI’s human rights performance indicators and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets and benchmarks. Countries can use HRMI’s scores to evaluate their own progress and their potential to reach the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, given their current level of income.

HRMI’s benchmarks and assessment standards

HRMI’s methodology uses two benchmarks and two assessment standards when evaluating a country’s ESR performance.

The first benchmark is the ‘income adjusted’ benchmark. Using this benchmark, countries are compared with other countries of a similar income level, allowing us to evaluate how effectively each country is using its available resources. The second benchmark is the ‘global best’ benchmark. This benchmark evaluates country performance relative to the best performing countries at any level of resources.

Both benchmarks are useful for different purposes. The country scores measured against the income adjusted benchmark show how effectively a country is using its resources to achieve good rights outcomes. This also tells us how much its performance can be improved even without extra income. The scores measured against the global best benchmark show how far a country has to go to do as well as any country in the world. These global best scores are important because even if a government is doing its best with their current resources (so it has an income adjusted rights score close to 100%), a country with very low income will likely still have many people not fully enjoying their human rights, which will be reflected in low scores when measured against the global best benchmark.

The assessment standard tells us which collection of rights indicators we use to evaluate the ESR performance of a country. The difference between the two assessment standards is to do with the availability and relevance of data for low and middle income countries versus high income countries.

The low and middle income assessment standard includes rights indicators which low and middle income countries are more likely to have data on, and/or which are more relevant to the rights challenges they currently face. The high income assessment standard includes rights indicators high income countries are most likely to have data on, and/or which are more relevant to the rights challenges they face.

For example, when figuring out how well countries are doing at fulfilling the right to education, for low and middle income countries we look at primary and secondary school enrolment rates. This tells us about access to education. Both indicators are widely available for low and middle income countries and vary widely across them.

But in high income countries, primary school enrolment is essentially universal, so this indicator isn’t a very useful measure of access to education. Instead, for our high income assessment standard we use the secondary school enrolment rate as our single indicator of access, but we also include an indicator of school quality: student performance on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. School quality is no less a concern for low and middle income countries, but unfortunately, at this time there is no test of student performance that is widely used by low and middle income countries.

We do produce scores on all indicators for all countries if the data are available. So, for example, you can see HRMI scores related to a low income country’s PISA results if that country participates in the PISA assessments.

It can be useful to toggle between the two assessment standards, and check out our scores on the individual indicators, on the country pages of the Rights Tracker.

HRMI’s data are useful for PNG’s change-makers

Let’s explore the economic and social rights performance of PNG using HRMI’s ESR data. The population of PNG in 2016 was 8.1 million, at which time PNG had a GDP per capita of $4,208 (in current PPP dollars). Therefore, HRMI ESR metrics for PNG are best assessed against the income adjusted performance benchmark using the low and middle income assessment standard.

The performance benchmark and assessment standard selected for assessing PNG’s performance of economic and social rights from HRMI’s Rights Tracker.

Right to Food

The right to food relates directly to SDG 2: Zero Hunger, which aims to end all forms of starvation by 2030. PNG’s right to food score is 32.9%, which is based on the percentage of children under five that are not stunted.

We use child stunting as a high-level ‘bellwether’ indicator to reveal how many Papua New Guineans are not getting enough energy and nutrients from their diets to grow normally. (For more on this, please see our Methodology Handbook.)

Data on PNG’s child stunting rate is most recently observed in 2010. At this time, only 50.5% of PNG’s children under five were not stunted. This is PNG’s raw indicator score.

Given PNG’s 2010 income level, it should have been able to ensure that 90.2% of children under five were not stunted. Thus, PNG’s income adjusted right to food score is only 32.9%. This score means PNG is only doing 32.9% of what should be possible with its current GDP per capita to ensure the enjoyment of the right to food.

If PNG were operating at best practice, it could raise its income adjusted right to food score from 32.9% to 100%. In other words, if PNG used their resources effectively even without additional income, it could increase the percentage of children not stunted from 50.5% to 90.2%, resulting in fewer than 10% of children under five being stunted.

If PNG were to operate at its full potential given its current resources, 402,000 additional children under five could avoid stunting, and make significant gains toward SDG 2’s target of ending starvation by 2030. 

Comparing this score with other low and middle incomes countries in East Asia and the Pacific, PNG is right at the bottom of the list, along with Timor-Leste.

Right to food scores for low and middle income countries in East Asia and the Pacific from HRMI’s Rights Tracker

Right to Health

PNG’s right to health score is 63.8%.

As shown in the image below (taken from the PNG page of our publicly available Rights Tracker), this score comes from three indicators: the use of contraception by women ages 15 to 49 years who are married or in-union (score = 32.5%); children surviving to age five (score = 86.7%); and people surviving to age 65 (score = 72.2%).

On average, these income adjusted indicator scores suggest the extent to which people enjoy the right to health is approximately 63.8% as high as it could be, even at PNG’s current income level.

PNG’s right to health overall and indicator scores from HRMI’s Rights Tracker.

Significantly, when we line up all low and middle income countries in East Asia and the Pacific in order of their HRMI right to health scores, PNG is at the absolute bottom. This tells us that PNG’s policy-makers could look to many of its neighbours with similar incomes, who are doing much better, for examples of ways to make improvements.

Right to health scores for low and middle income countries in East Asia and the Pacific from HRMI’s Rights Tracker

These right to health indicators collectively relate to SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being, as well as SDG 1: No Poverty.

If PNG were operating at best practice, approximately 43,000 additional children would have a much better chance of reaching their fifth birthday, contributing to SDG 3’s target of ending preventable deaths of children under five by 2030.

Right to Housing

PNG’s ESR score for the right to housing is 18.9%. As illustrated by the Rights Tracker screenshot below, this score is averaged across two indicators: access to basic sanitation (score = 17%), and access to drinking from an improved water source on site (score = 20.8%).

These indicators relate to SDG 1: No Poverty, SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, and SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Based on these income adjusted indicator scores, our analysis tells us that:

If PNG used its resources efficiently, an additional 6.6 million people would have access to basic sanitation and an extra 6 million people would have access to water in their homes.

Furthermore, compared to other low and middle income countries in East Asia and the Pacific, PNG scores the lowest on the right to housing. Given that many of PNG’s neighbours have income adjusted right to housing scores more than double or triple PNG’s score, this tells us that it is possible for PNG to greatly improve its right to housing performance even without the need for additional income.

Right to housing scores for low and middle income countries in East Asia and the Pacific from HRMI’s Rights Tracker

Right to Work

PNG’s right to work score is 37.9%, as measured by the percentage of people not in absolute poverty, where the absolute poverty line is set at $3.20 (2011 PPP$) per day.

This indicator relates to SDG 1: No Poverty and SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.

This score means PNG is only achieving 37.9% of what should be possible with its current income to ensure the right to work is enjoyed by all.

If PNG were operating at its full potential given its current resources, it would lift 4 million people out of absolute poverty and make significant steps toward SDG 1, eliminating extreme poverty by 2030.

Again, as shown on the graph below, PNG sits near the bottom of the East Asia and Pacific table for the right to work, with only Timor-Leste having a lower score. It is clear that there is plenty of room for improvement for PNG’s right to work performance. The good news is that our data indicates which countries PNG can look to for inspiration. For example, Malaysia and Thailand both have income adjusted right to work scores of approximately 99%.

Right to work scores for low and middle income countries in East Asia and the Pacific from HRMI’s Rights Tracker

Right to Education

HRMI uses two indicators under the low and middle income assessment standard for the right to education, both of which reflect SDG 4: Quality Education and SDG 1: No Poverty. The first indicator is the total number of students of the official primary school age group who are enrolled at primary or secondary education. PNG scores 82.9% on this indicator.

Although PNG has a low rank for most indicator scores when compared to other low and middle income nations in East Asia and the Pacific, PNG outperforms several counties with the effective use of their resources to provide primary school education. The graph below shows that PNG’s primary school enrolment score is higher than seven other countries, including Indonesia and Thailand.

Primary school enrolment scores for low and middle income countries in East Asia and the Pacific from HRMI’s Rights Tracker

The second right to education indicator relates to secondary school enrolment. However, international databases currently do not provide the necessary data to measure performance on secondary school enrolment in PNG. For this reason, we are unable to produce PNG’s overall right to education score, or its Quality of Life score (reflecting performance across all five economic and social rights).

However, based on PNG’s income adjusted primary school enrolment score, we can conclude that:

If PNG were operating at best practice, an extra 165,000 children would be enrolled in primary school.

PNG’s overall rights performance

HRMI’s economic and social rights scores for PNG are summarised in the Rights Tracker image below.

Overall economic and social rights scores for PNG from HRMI’s Rights Tracker

You can compare PNG’s four rights scores with other countries’ scores by clicking on each of the rights: right to foodright to healthright to housing, and right to work. On each of these rights pages, you can also click on the ‘Add country filter’ button to compare East Asian and Pacific countries and see how PNG is performing relative to other countries in its region.

NoteIt is worth being mindful of the year that the data were collected for each of PNG’s rights indicators. Data on the indicator for the right to health was most recently observed in 2016, and the right to housing indicators used data from 2015. However, data for PNG’s right to work and right to education indicators were most recently recorded in 2009 and 2012, respectively. The data for PNG’s right to food was last recorded in 2010. Therefore, it is possible that PNG has made progress in the performance of these latter rights, but such (potential) progress is not yet reflected in any credible data source.

Next steps: what can you do now with this information?

If you are advocating for human rights in PNG, or working towards the SDGs, HRMI data can point out new opportunities for progress. Here are some ways you can use our data to encourage progress:

1. Look for the countries that are similar to PNG in income, but scoring much better. You can filter the rights pages on our Rights Tracker by region and income level, so just click on these rights to get started, and choose a filter at the top left: right to foodright to healthright to housing, and right to work.

You can find which countries have similar levels of income using this list, arranged by GDP per capita.

2. Ask what those similar and high-performing countries are doing differently.

3. Copy key facts from the Rights Tracker and this article to use in your reports and advocacy. Isn’t it compelling to tell the government, or the public, that with better management, 43,000 more children could live past their fifth birthday?

All our data are freely available for you to use. We would love to hear if you use our work!

4. Watch out for the next annual update of the scores in May or June each year – is PNG improving, either in its score or its place on the table?

5. Get in touch with us if you need any help at all. We would be delighted to partner with you in your work to improve people’s lives.

Thanks for your interest in HRMI. To further explore our human rights data for PNG, please visit our Rights Tracker, where you can find data by country or right.

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