2001 TIM: Assessment of the Situation of Separated Children and Orphans in East Timor
Author: Knudsen, C.
UNICEF and IRC developed this assessment of the situation of Separated and Orphaned Children in East Timor in response to a request by the Task Force on Separated Children and Orphans. Partners in this Taskforce include UNTAET/ETTA representatives, NGOs, local groups and various people active/working in child centres. There was a concern that these groups of vulnerable children, in the violent aftermath of the August 1999 referendum, were: not getting the immediate care and attention they needed; and being taken into orphanages and other residential child centres around the country, thus deprived of their right to family life.
Purpose / Objective
The assessment generally aimed to:
- Analyse the questionnaires developed by the Task Force (and distributed to several centres) as well as information from other sources
- Conduct a study of the situation of East Timorese separated children and orphans, and the orphanage system past and present
- Analyse the results, recommend a policy and legislation to protect East Timorese children, and strategize for the long-term development of community-based support for separated children and orphans
- Encourage home visits and/or reunification of families, whenever possible, and in the best interest of the child
Ultimately, the assessment aimed to carefully examine the conditions and situations of the children who are now living away from their families, both in centres and in the community, in order to begin developing policy, legislation and programs to improve their situation.
A total of 37 child centres, boarding houses and boarding schools were visited, and interviews performed throughout East Timor. The centres were evaluated according to criteria based on access to resources and provision of services. In addition, a survey was done of the children in the centres. 1242 children were initially given the survey and of these 1242 children, full information was collected for 760. This 760 represents our survey group.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Most children in the centres are not orphans:
This assessment originally started as a survey of orphans and orphanages in East Timor. However, we found that the use of both terms differed throughout the country. In addition, there are several kinds of residential arrangements for children seeking care or access to education in East Timor. A large percentage of the children in other centres come from the same background, face the same difficulties, and require the same protection, both within the centres and at home, as those in more traditional centres, but may not be considered orphans.
From this overall survey, we were able to gather statistics investigating how many of the children are truly orphans, and how many still have access to family. The different Timorese understandings of the English word orphan and the alternate definitions in Tetun and Bahasa Indonesia for children without parents, provided an interesting insight into community perspectives on the needs of children, illustrating the perception that children with one parent or very poor families may be just as vulnerable as an orphan.
There are severe limitations on the current quality of care for children in centres and in the community:
Separated and orphaned children across the country are in serious need of immediate support in terms of food, clothing, clean water, health care, education and other basic services. Though many children are being sent to childcare centers to live because they can better provide access to education, attention, food and clothing than families or neighbors in their home villages, the centers also require immediate support, training and staff development.
Most centres cannot currently provide the minimum necessary standard of 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, nets, blankets as well as electricity, water and food (basic food distribution was formerly done by WFP, but they are now finishing this program). It also means that many centre staff, due to limited resources, training, time and energy are currently unable to answer the emotional and developmental requirements of the children, including needs for individual attention, supervised play and, when possible, intensive contact with parents and other family members.
Many children in centres are not able to go home to visit families and fulfil the right to family life:
According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, each child has the Right to Family Life. For most children with families who are staying in centres, this right is not being provided due to limited or non-existent family visits. These children are thus deprived of the essential role that the family plays in a child's development. Most children who have the opportunity, only go home once or twice a year, due to constraints of distance and lack of transport.
Some children are identified as needing protection from threats at home and are, therefore, kept in the centres during the holidays. The current capacity of centre staff and other community members to successfully mediate between these children and their families as well as provide education to parents to help them take better care of their children is limited and must be encouraged and supported.
Centres have historically been the only social welfare net for children after the extended family:
The tradition of sending children to stay in centres has historical roots and is deeply entrenched as a social welfare mechanism for families in need. Families and the Church are driving the use of child centres.
Residential centres are currently considered by many communities to be the best existing means for some children to gain access to resources that are unavailable in many communities. The supplementary training, personal attention, and access to resources provided in centres, most often by the Church, are seen as the only options available to children outside of the currently inadequate school system.
Use of child centres is directly related to the poor quality of, and access to, education:
There will be little change in the practice of sending primary and junior students away from their families to live in centres until local schools are operating and become better able to provide a tangible and desired education. Though school reconstruction has commenced, the current plan for education will not be able to provide for the quality of instruction, individual attention or facilities that are needed in the near future, especially in more rural or remote areas. As a result of the deficiencies of the former Indonesian and Portuguese school systems, many poor parents do not feel they have the capacity to provide support or guidance to their child's formal education.
Training in the form of best practices workshops should be initiated to allow centre staff from different traditions to share their experiences in working with children in centres, with vulnerable families and in ensuring child protection, in the effort to develop criteria for good care. Information on child development, trauma, and the need for contact with family should be shared through these workshops.
Support is needed to improve the quality of life for children currently staying in child centres. This should include direct assistance as well as livelihood and other small projects to help build strategies for sustainability, where necessary. Age-appropriate assistance is needed in the form of financial assistance, nutrition, furniture, water and sanitation facilities, toys, recreational materials etc.
Support to families and communities caring for vulnerable children should be implemented through school feeding projects and programming to assist widows and widowers with training and livelihood initiatives within their communities.
Guidelines and legislation are urgently needed to inform registration and monitoring of child centres, criteria for 'adequate care' and enrolment of children in need of protection. Children at each centre must be registered with Social Services in the current and future administrations, and their right to identity protected. Reliable statistics on the situation of vulnerable children are essential to future planning.
Special protection programmes are needed for monitoring the situation of marginalized children (disabled, orphaned, street children, abused children as well as children in conflict with the law) in communities. These young people should have access to child lawyers/advocates who will monitor their case/experience and guarantee that their rights are protected. Identified responsible parties such as social workers, police, and church representatives should also be prepared to help defend the rights of these children.
Advocacy for immediate improvement in the process and vision of educating children is essential during the formation of the new school system. The quality of teaching and learning must be immediately improved. In addition, communities must be given effective responsibility for collaboration in the formal and non-formal education of their children, and assisted in efforts to support Government-provided basic schooling with non-formal initiatives and other programs such as apprenticeships and mentoring initiatives.
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