Preventing violence and child abuse through play in Timor-Leste

UNICEF supported Child Friendly Spaces ensure psychosocial wellbeing for children

UNICEF Timor-Leste
Preventing violence and child abuse through play in Timor-Leste
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2022/Bbenevides
16 May 2022

The sound of children singing echoes in the still mid-afternoon air in a suburb of Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili. The children, aged two to fourteen years, clap, stomp their feet, dance and sing under the porch of a small house down a winding street in the Tasi Tolu (Three Beaches) area of the city. A month-old baby sleeps in a cloth hammock a few feet away from the children, oblivious to the sounds of stomping feet and singing. 

The children are taking part in Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) activities under the Child Friendly Space (CFS) initiative organized by the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion (MSSI), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its implementing partner, the non-governmental organization Ba Futuru (for the Future).

A year ago, the neighbourhood was hit by devastating floods, the worst Timor-Leste has experienced in several decades. There had also been some gang-related violence reported in the area and COVID-19 pandemic related restrictions meant children were unable to move outside of the communities to meet friends. Children were traumatized during these times, according to parents.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, they could not go far, and we had to escape the floods too, says Angelina Menes, who has children aged 5 and 9. “But now, my children look forward to the CFS activities. They sing, dance, are safe and happier.” 

UNICEF has supported the establishment of 15 such CFS across Dili Municipality. In total, over 1600 children between the ages of 2-14 years take part in these community based MHPSS activities. 

The CFS play an essential protective role for children in adverse circumstances, providing children a safe place to gather for play, self-expression, and learning, ensuring their mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. In Dili, the children participating in the community based CFS perform daily psychosocial activities, like breathing, grounding, expressing with art, dancing, singing and playing, learning how to cope with difficult situations, to be thankful and feel safe. 
 

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UNICEF Timor-Leste/2022/Bbenevides
Animator at the Child Friendly Space, Aurelia dos Santos, helps children draw on balloons. The activity helps children express themselves through art and build skills for self-expression.
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UNICEF Timor-Leste/2022/Bbenevides
Animator at the Child Friendly Space, Nelson Soares, helps children draw on balloons. The activity helps children express themselves through art and build skills for self-expression.
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UNICEF Timor-Leste/2022/Bbenevides
Child Friendly Space participant, Indilina, leaps into the air as she skips rope during play based activity at the CFS in Tasi Tolu, Dili. Play based activity helps children improve concentration, self-esteem and confidence.
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UNICEF Timor-Leste/2022/Bbenevides
Children draw as they take part in Child Friendly Space activities in Timor-Leste. Drawing and creative expression helps improve creativity for children, opportunities that may not always be available for children in schools or in after-school activities.
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UNICEF Timor-Leste/2022
A child at one of the CFS in Dili leads a breathing activity. The breathing and grounding exercises help children relax and focus.
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UNICEF Timor-Leste/2022/Bbenevides
Romana Soares, an Animator at the CFS and mother, cradles her baby as her 5 and 9 year old children take part in activities at the CFS. My children enjoy taking part in these activities, and I no longer have to walk through all parts of the extensive neighbourhood to look for them before dusk each day.
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UNICEF Timor-Leste/2022/Bbenevides
Neighbours and friends Cristina Zaveira and Angelina Menes watch as their children take part in CFS activities in Dili, Timor-Leste. The CFS also serve as platforms to raise awareness on actions to prevent violence against children and women. Special parenting sessions are held for adults so they can better understand children’s emotional needs and ensure children are live in safe environments, while also learning about positive parenting skills.

The CFS are being supported through the European Union – United Nations Spotlight Initiative, which seeks to prevent and end domestic and intimate partner violence in Timor-Leste. The EU-UN Spotlight Initiative is being implemented with the Secretary of State for Equality and Inclusion (SEII) and by five UN Agencies, in collaboration with a number of other implementing partners.