Papua New Guinea: some key social indicators


A brief guide to some of Papua New Guinea’s key social indicators, including literacy, education, health and women’s rights.

Children’s literacy charity Buk bilong Pikinini places libraries in communities across PNG. Credit: Buk Bilong Pikinini


PNG has an adult literacy rate of 64.2 % according to 2015 UNESCO estimates. Male literacy is 65.6% and female 62.8%.

The rate is the lowest in Oceania, however it slightly improved following the National Government’s abolition of school fees for basic education in 2012.

Following cuts in the 2020 National Budget, free education was replaced by the Government Tuition Fee Subsidy, under which parents are required to pay a portion of school fees.


The National Government introduced the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) policy in 2012, with the aim of providing free education.

A Lowy Institute report in 2019 stated that in recent years it has become evident that implementation of TFF has varied significantly between the provinces, with contradictory approaches to financial management resulting in some parents needing to contribute additional funds.

Attending school is not compulsory. World Vision has stated that primary school attendance for boys is 63.4% and 56.5% for girls.

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Some research suggests children drop out of school to help families in the household and to do agricultural activities.

The school system is 3-6-4 (three years of elementary education, six years of primary and four years of secondary), but there are moves to transition it to 1-6-6 (one year of elementary, six years of primary and six years of secondary) by 2030.

Some of the key challenges for the education system include insufficient infrastructure (many classrooms are overcrowded), lack of resources and not enough appropriately trained teachers.


Australia’s Smarttraveller warns that insect-borne diseases include malaria, Zika virus, dengue, chikungunya and Japanese encephalitis. Use insect repellent. Dysentery, typhoid, hepatitis and waterborne parasites are also common. Boil drinking water or drink bottled water, Smarttraveller advises.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says major health concerns in PNG in 2020 include communicable diseases, malaria, tuberculosis, diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory disease.

Rates of maternal, infant and child mortality are high compared to other countries in the region.

PNG has a HIV epidemic with significantly higher prevalence among female sex workers, men who have sex with men and transgender people, according to WHO.

A polio outbreak occurred in 2018 and resulted in 26 cases in nine provinces. WHO says the outbreak has been controlled and PNG is no longer considered to have active transmission of polio.

PNG had 8 official cases of COVID-19 as of 1 June 2020.

Women’s rights

PNG is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the majority of women experience rape or assault in their lifetime, as well as systemic discrimination.

Penalties for violent crimes against women were toughened in 2013 with the Family Protection Act, but HRW says few perpetrators are brought to justice. HRW notes that attacks on women and girls accused of sorcery continue unabated and there are limited support systems such as counsellors and safe houses.

PNG was ranked 155th out of 189 countries on the Gender Inequality Index released by the United Nations Development Program in 2019.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) says women are held back by a male-dominated culture and the legal framework does not adequately protect their interests, particularly in relation to property rights and employment. Customary law, which frequently discriminates against women, is commonly applied, according to the IFC.

It also says women in PNG derive limited benefit from the formal economy, mainly operating small-scale informal businesses.

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