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From Tradition to Child Protection in Timor-Leste

“I now understand that violence against children should always be resolved through the legal way”, says Mr. Dosantos from Timor-Leste. In his community it was common to use traditional justice as a reaction to child abuse.

Children playing in Aileu Municipality
Plan International works with communities and local authorities to establish child protection mechanisms.

With a fertility rate of about five births per woman in Timor-Leste, the least we can say is that having a large family is highly valued in the country, where about 35% of the population is under 15.  However, violence against children, especially girls, remains a serious issue. The most recent census shows that 28 percent of girls under 17 have experienced physical or sexual violence since age 15.

In a small village about 60 kilometres away from the capital, Dili, cases of violence against children were particularly rife before Plan International started intervening, and traditional justice was still largely used to settle them. It often consisted of compensation through money, animals or traditional jewellery. “We used to have a lot of abuse cases and domestic violence in my village, and compensation seemed like the right way of justice for us”, says Mr. Dosantos, a member of the village Council.

Detect, refer and Report

In order to prevent violence against children Plan International is working with communities and local authorities to establish child protection mechanisms and to train members of communities on how to use them. In the training, local government officials, parents and other community members learn about children’s rights, the importance of child protection and how to report violence against children to relevant authorities.

Traditional Justice Seemed Like the Right Way for Us​.

“Through the training I now understand that cases against human rights should always be resolved through the legal way”, says Mr Dosantos. “Now the people in my community pay high attention to any violence in their vicinity and they report it to the legal ways the government has established”.

Plan International puts a particular focus on including men, especially fathers, in child protection trainings and processes. Research shows that it is usually women who stand up for children’s rights and their protection. However, it is crucial that men take their part as well.

involving men in child protection

This is why our Child Participation and Protection Programme specifically targets men in rural communities by encouraging them to participate in activities focused on raising awareness and understanding about the consequences of domestic violence, the importance of gender equality and children’s rights.

Mr. Dosantos is the coordinator of the local child protection group supported by Plan International.
Mr. Dosantos is the coordinator of the local child protection group supported by Plan International.

Mr. Dosantos is convinced of the importance for every community member to be involved in protecting children. He is now the coordinator of the local child protection group, and together with the other members of the group, he disseminates the lessons the learned to other communities in sub-villages.

”Members of our community are opening up and consulting us when they witness any problem in their family”, Mr. Dosantos explains. “We give them advice, they can find solutions without violence and they report cases of violence against children to the police,” he concludes.

Plan Internationals Child Protection and Participation Programme is supported by Plan International Sweden and funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).