East Timor is located in Southeast Asia. The young island nation became an independent state in 2002 after almost 450 years of Portuguese rule, 24 years of Indonesian military occupation and then two years under UN administration. The country’s history has meant that the population and development have been neglected, which as a result has marked the country with poverty and crime.
East Timor is still weak and in need of foreign support. 60 percent of the population is under the age of 24 and many face major challenges. Unemployment is high and is expected to increase with large population growth. Far too many children are malnourished, suffer from growth retardation or die before the age of five. Climate change and natural disasters also pose a threat to many children in East Timor.
Some results from the past year
The past year has offered positive results in local and national elections. More women than ever have been elected to important posts in the districts and a new rural law requires that each village have female political candidates. In addition, a welfare law has been adopted that will function as a safety net in case of pregnancy, old age, disability, work injury or death.
Over the past year, Plan International has, among other things, built and opened 17 preschools, made it possible for 57 young people to get a job after vocational training and contributed to 42 young people being included in local decision-making bodies.
Young people protest against gender discrimination
We want to stop discrimination, break down stereotypes and, not least, we want to ensure that not a single child grows up with violence.
Dementina, 17, member of a youth movement
Studies show that gender-based violence is common in East Timor. One of the reports shows that 86 percent of women and 80 percent of men think that a husband has the right to beat his wife if she neglects her duties. The reactions to these figures have been many and loud. Among other things, the youth movement “Youth for Peace”, which is supported by Plan International, organized a demonstration against gender discrimination and thus became a voice to be reckoned with in the fight for equality and against violence and sexual harassment.
Water and hygiene
Duarte’s new toilet
I like toilets and I especially like that it does not smell disgusting in our house anymore.
Duarte, 7 years
For Duarte, it was a very special experience when the family got their first toilet. In East Timor, it is not very common to have a toilet, especially not in the countryside where many people still live without proper sewage systems. Poor sanitary conditions and poor opportunities to maintain hygiene can lead to diseases such as diarrhea, which is a common contributing cause of child mortality.
Plan International therefore collaborates with the population and local authorities to disseminate information about the risks of open sewers and about the benefits of having your own toilet. We also assist with technical advice on how to build your own toilet
Inequality and lack of knowledge behind teenage pregnancies
Many girls have no idea how a baby is born and teenage pregnancies are common. Plan International works with the government to strengthen girls’ rights.
Little Afeena sleeps well and a thin mint green fabric flutters in the window. In the Alieu district on the mountainous highlands of East Timor, the home is typical. The walls are made of bricks and the floor is stamped earth, tightly packed.
– I knew a little about how a child is born, but not much at all. At school we learned nothing about it, not a single lesson, says Natalia, 19 years old and Afeena’s mother.
East Timor is located in Southeast Asia and is one of the region’s poorest and least developed countries. After decades of occupation and brutality, the country gained democratic independence only 15 years ago. Political challenges are a part of life, but women and girls suffer particularly from the inequality that prevails. Those who are brought up to be obedient have no or very little opportunity to influence their own future.
– Our culture is very patriarchal and traditional, so women and girls do not have the power to make decisions for themselves: for their health, their bodies, their participation or their education, says Natalia.
– And even if sex education is on the schedule, the teacher is often not confident or comfortable enough to provide good information. They do not think they can introduce such things to the students, it is for those who are married.
Nearly one in four teenage girls in East Timor becomes pregnant and has children before the age of 20 and almost a fifth are married before the age of 18. Natalia’s boyfriend abandoned her when she became pregnant.
– I dropped out of school and never went to any doctor, but I was scared because my mother died in childbirth, says Natalia, who is now raising her daughter herself.
Lucia is another young woman and an example of another common fate for girls: getting pregnant and then being forced to marry. She was forced into a marriage with a much older teacher.
– When my parents found out that I had a relationship, they became very angry. They said they wanted to beat me to death. I was very scared and it ended up in the hospital, says Lucia.
The relationship continued anyway and shortly afterwards Lucia became pregnant. She had no idea that you can get pregnant when you have sex. After that, there was only one alternative: to get married.
Statistics show that domestic violence is more common among girls who marry early, in East Timor, around 60 percent have experienced violence from their partner. Plan International works together with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the government to improve the situation, among other things by trying to bring gender equality and girls ‘rights on the politicians’ agenda. We also work to ensure that both girls and their families understand what education means for development.
Lucia has now returned to vocational training, but for Natalia, the stigma and shame surrounding her early pregnancy has made her not feel like she can return.
Facts about East Timor
Population: 1 million
Life expectancy: 69 years
Infant mortality rate: 43 per 1000 births
Proportion of children starting school: 91.1%
Proportion of women in parliament: 38.5%