Timor-Leste is a small country in South-East Asia, located 400 kilometers north of Australia. In 2002, Timor-Leste became the world’s newest nation when it achieved independence after several centuries as a Portuguese colony, 24 years of Indonesian rule and a brief period under the United Nations administration.
The East Timorese finally gained their freedom, but many paid with their lives. It’s estimated that one third of the population died as a result of the 24 year Indonesian occupation. In 1999, the violence that immediately followed the vote for independence, left over three quarters of the population displaced and the majority of the country’s infrastructure destroyed. What’s left is a young country trying to recover from its violent and traumatic history.
Timor-Leste is one of the world’s poorest nations, ranking 158th out of 179 countries according to the United Nations. With a population of just over a million people, two thirds are under the age of 25 years and an estimated 49.9 per cent live on less than US$1 a day.
The people have all suffered, but none more so than the children. During the violence, many children witnessed family members killed and mutilated and their homes burnt to the ground. Many children were left orphaned and vulnerable.
UNICEF and government statistics estimate that over 65% of children in Timor-Leste experience some form of abuse. Child sexual abuse is a serious problem within families and the majority of victims are girls. These girls are often labelled ‘damaged’ and are disowned by their families and communities.
There is a great need for places of refuge, protection and care for these children.
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