Child Protection and Child Participation
Protecting Timor-Leste’s most vulnerable children from violence, exploitation and abuse
Around half (46 percent) of Timor-Leste’s population is under the age of 18. This presents an enormous opportunity for youth engagement and a significant challenge to protecting the country’s most vulnerable people.
Since independence, Timor-Leste has made significant progress to establish a child protection system and enhance the participation of children and adolescents in all aspects of society. However, significant challenges to enhancing protection and meaningful participation of children in realising their rights remain.
Some of these challenges start at birth. Birth registration is one of the most powerful instruments we have for ensuring equity within a broad scope of services. Although birth registration rates are rising, approximately 27 percent of births nationally are not registered, and only one in three recorded births are assigned a birth certificate.
More than one in three children in Timor-Leste do not have their birth registered, restricting access to vital services from their first breath.
Timor-Leste not only ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child but also established a National Commission on the Rights of the Child, signalling its focus on child protection.
Legal and social systems are designed largely for adults. Data about children’s contact with the law or support for children who are victims of violence is limited. Children’s participation in decision-making processes within families, schools and communities is also limited.
Violence against children
Domestic violence is common in Timor-Leste. Cases of violence against children in the home and at school are under-reported due to a societal belief that these domestic and classroom incidents are private.
Girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to violence. Two out of three women between 15 and 19 in Timor-Leste report experiencing physical or sexual violence, but incidences of sexual abuse are also under-reported.
Why we need to make a change:
• Only 29 percent of children under five years have birth certificates.
• 3 in 10 women aged 15-19 reported that they experienced physical violence in the last 12 months, with cases going unreported.
• 7 in 10 women and 5 in 10 men believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife under certain circumstances.
• In a recent survey, 7 in 10 children reported experiences of physical violence and 8 in 10 children reported emotional violence by their teacher in the past 12 months.
• As many as 8 in 10 teachers surveyed found it acceptable to beat a child under certain circumstances.
• Few mechanisms exist to protect children in the justice system.
• 25 percent of Timorese youth are neither employed nor at school.
UNICEF is a key partner to the Government in the development of its child protection systems, promoting and protecting the rights of all children in Timor-Leste.
UNICEF supported the government to map and assess the child protection system. This resulted in a policy paper and key recommendations for a comprehensive, integrated child and family welfare system, put in place in 2014.
Supporting change makers
UNICEF has supported the Ministry of Social Solidarity to enable child defenders, including social welfare workers and frontline caseworkers, to work with youth offenders and victims in child-sensitive ways. We also support the National Police of Timor-Leste (PNTL) to develop child-friendly investigation material: development and integration of a Legal Training Centre curriculum that includes modules on child rights and child-friendly procedures for judges and magistrates. In each municipality, UNICEF helped the PNTL build child-friendly interview rooms.
Child rights advocacy
UNICEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Social Solidarity, equips parents, caregivers and local leaders with tools for social mobilisation and an increased knowledge of child protection issues. We have also provided support for birth registration.
Adolescent participation and development
UNICEF has been working to reach adolescents and young people with essential life skills to deal with everyday challenges and develop themselves. In 2010, we worked with the Secretariat of State for Youth and Sport to launch the National Youth Parliament, providing young people with the opportunity to contribute to national development.
With our support, the Ministry of Social Solidarity worked closely with National Youth Parliament alumni to facilitate basic education courses on life skills.