BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home June news

" ... initiatives for children have been localised and small. The net result is that there is very little service provision for children now. ... One of the main concerns for NGOs has been the potential crisis that may occur when the international NGOs pull out. Some of this has started to occur already. We are concerned that the government does not appear to have made adequate provision either in terms of planning or budgets for the large scale central government social care that will be required." Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e / The East Timor National NGO Forum

Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e
The East Timor National NGO Forum

Kaikoli Street,  Dili-East Timor  telephone 322772/


CANBERRA June 2001

There is much work to do in relation to children and young people in East Timor.

One of the questions being asked at the moment is “How will the work continue in this time of independence and transition when many of the international organizations will either leave or reduce their presence”.

Direct programming assistance to children has been left off the formal agendas since the initiation of UNTAET. ETTA departments of health and education have been so overwhelmed by the enormity of setting up a new system that they have had little time to concentrate on the daily experience of school and health for children.

As a result, they have not been able to assist many NGOs to interact with the departments in providing additional services. Therefore, initiatives for children have been localised and small. The net result is that there is very little service provision for children now.


As at 8th May  there were 10 children in Becora prison. This prison houses both adults and children in contravention of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The young people range in age from 12-17 years old. They have been held there awaiting trial for 3-6 months. A young person held in detention since September last year has only recently been released.

When approaches have been made to the Public Defenders, we have been informed that they are facing difficulties with a heavy caseload and matters which are viewed as having more priority.

One young person recently tried to commit suicide by cutting his wrist with a razor blade.  There is much concern for other young people there who are unwell with ill-defined illnesses with symptoms of paralysis.

The young people are visited by PRADET (Programme for Psychosocial Recovery and Development in East Timor), a mental health service offering support to the young people. Workers from Forum Comunicacao also visit and  organise play activities for them. Other local and church organizations also visit the young people. However, on occasion, the young people are not allowed visitors if there are problems at the prison.

There is no legal person or organization that has taken responsibility to ensure that these young people are not detained unnecessarily. There are only 9 public defenders in the whole country. There appears to be no public defender whose role it is to look after these matters and therefore young people fall to the bottom of the priority list.

In terms of more general youth advocacy, there are individual local organizations who speak about the rights of children. There is also a Childrens’ Rights Working Group consisting of 9 national and international organisations, however this group is poorly resourced and so has difficulties being an effective public voice for children. For example the group does not have the resources to access and comment upon new laws and regulations as they are developed, and so these are developed without adequate consideration of children’s rights issues.

We therefore recommend:

* that public defenders be given specific training in representing children.
* that a system be adopted whereby one or a number of public defenders are responsible to ensure that young people do not remain in prison unnecessarily
* that an adequate number of public defenders are available and/or an adequate amount of funding directed to the legal assistance office for this purpose
* that international donors financially support an independent children’s and youth advocacy centre, employing lawyers, social workers, community educators and trainers to advocate for children and young people in the court system and in the public arena.
* that the children receive education whilst imprisoned (either school or vocational education).


Separated and orphaned children in this country are in very serious need of immediate support in terms of food, clothing, clean water, health care, education and other basic services.

In this transitional period, many international and national organizations have paid attention to this need, whilst not yet effectively coordinating their efforts. Of the 38 centres in East Timor, most cannot currently provide the minimum necessary standard or quality of care for the children staying there.

This means that they may not be able to access or provide material goods such as clothing, beds, mosquito nets and blankets, as well as electricity, water and food (basic food distribution was formerly undertaken by WFP but they are now finishing this program.)

It also means that many centre staff, due to lack of resources and training, and high workload are unable to answer the emotional and developmental needs of the children including need for individual attention, supervised play and if possible intensive time with parents or other family members (some children are placed in these centres as their impoverished families or communities are not able to provide for them)

Immediate attention is needed to these problems.

The transitional government does not appear have a clear program to address these specific concerns.


1. That donors continue to support programs through local NGOs to create suitable places in each district, as well as at the sub-district level, to assist orphaned children.


During the conflicts of 1999, many children became the victims of violence, as they were forcefully separated from their families and taken to West Timor or other parts of Indonesia. Up until today their parents don’t know their whereabouts or how they are faring in the camps or in other placements.

There are currently more than 400 children in this situation. While IRC and JRS have been working on tracing these children and reuniting them with their families, they are at risk of dwindling funding in the future, requiring that other NGOs and church groups take up the role of working with these families.


That the donor communities:

1. request and assist the transitional government to pay special attention to the plight of these children, in order that those still in West Timor or other parts of Indonesia may be returned to East Timor and reunited with their families.
2. request that the Indonesian government locate and identify the whereabouts and well-being of these children, and return them home
3. financially support a tracing programme to reunite these children with their families.


In a walk around the streets of Dili or other parts of the country one will see street children and children roaming around unattended. Some of these street children are the products of rape, concubines and forced-wives of Indonesian Military Soldiers.

The problem of street children in Dili is increasing due to the attraction of the financial opportunities that the large international presence provides.
Some work has begun with these children by church groups and NGOs, mostly volunteers. However, there is a need for substantive projects to help these children back to school and into their communities.

Some groups have been working towards a centre in Dili to develop training, school opportunities and activities for these children, but have been delayed by lack of resources and a place to locate the centre.

Currently the transitional government has not prioritised this problem,
However, it is clear that this group of children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and are seriously at risk.


We call upon the donor community to:
1. financially support locally driven programmes which aim to provide support for this group of children, including youth centres, employment and training schemes.


In addition to the lack of schools and resources for children, there is also the difficulty that many children are unwilling or unable to go to school.

Following the violence and displacement of families that occurred in 1999, many families and children are still suffering from trauma. This makes it almost impossible for children to concentrate at school.

 Local NGOs who visit these children report that many of these children just want to stay at home, do not want to engage in any activities.

It is to be expected that for many children, fitting back into the routine of school will be very difficult without some particular support in this area.

Additionally, some families are very poor and require their children to assist at home or go out to work to support the family. Without economic improvement for these families, this problem will continue.

We call upon the international donor community to support alternate education initiatives for those children who are unable to access the mainstream schooling system.


There are still significant health problems faced by children, related to poverty, lack of food and clean water in many areas.

Additionally, children are dealing with the after effects of the violence that they and their families have witnessed. Additionally, many children suffer emotional abuse and neglect as a result of their parents difficulties in coping with the after effects of the violence that has occurred in this country. Domestic violence and child abuse is a major problem here.

There is no service as yet to counsel and assist the many children in this situation, apart from PRADET, who have seen about 60 children and young people aged between 3-20 years of age since their work began in September last year.

However, the future of this service in unclear and we do not know how the counselling needs of children will be addressed.

Therefore, we call upon the donor communities to fund locally driven and managed counselling and support services for children and young people.


The primary responsibility for care of these children remains with the family, who receive little or no assistance. For example for children who are unable to walk unaided, there is little or no equipment, eg walking sticks or wheelchairs.

There is one school presently operating, which teaches children with a wide range of different disabilities, but with little specialised resources or equipment.

In addition to more schools for children with special needs, there is also a need to ensure that mainstream schools are accessible to children who may be able to attend them with support.


The needs of young people are currently being left out of the equation. Unemployment, violence and susceptibility to sexual exploitation are major problems.

There is an urgent need for vocational training, apprenticeships and the development of opportunities for young people. Attention thus far has focussed on universities, but the majority of young people will not attend university and need viable alternatives to become productive adults.

Training in agriculture, mechanics, carpentry, tourism, sewing, tailoring, fishing, handicrafts, small income generating projects etc, are all sorely needed, focussing specifically on the needs and vulnerabilities of youth.

We call upon the donor communities to financially support locally driven and managed initiatives in this area.


One of the main concerns for NGOs has been the potential crisis that may occur when the international NGOs pull out. Some of this has started to occur already.

We are concerned that the government does not appear to have made adequate provision either in terms of planning or budgets for the large scale central government social care that will be required.

See also:
BD: 'Refugees' & Missing Persons - A collection of recent information, reports, articles and news

East Timor National NGO Forum / Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e  Updated June 14
Umbrella agency for East Timorese Non-Government Organisations (NGOs)
VISION: To contribute to the building of a pluralist, democratic, just and sustainable East Timor through the development of a strong, independent and responsible civil society committed to upholding and making real in the daily life of the community, both village and urban, the full range of human rights so that all East Timorese, particularly the poor and disadvantaged, can enjoy the fruits of liberation and development in an East Timor forever free.
MISSION: To realise its vision by promoting a culture of learning, cooperation, partnership with the community and respect for human rights and good practice amongst East Timorese NGOs and between them and other development actors, both domestic and international, and by serving as a collective, independent voice for the rights and needs of the community.
VALUES AND PRINCIPLES: a rights approach to development; inclusiveness, participation; accountability; gender balance; respect for the environment; non-party political; non-sectarian; good governance; volunteerism.
Kaikoli Street, Dili-East Timor  Telephone +670(390)322772
E-mail:  Homepage:
Jun 7 ETNGO Forum: Donors Meeting must be for Rural People:
Jun 13 ETNGO Forum: The voice of Civil Society calls the Donors:

BD: East Timor National NGO Forum / Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e - A collection of recent media releases, position-statements, speeches, petitions, reports, and news

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