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Committee on the Rights of the Child examines the report of Timor-Leste

25 September 2015

The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined second to third periodic report of Timor-Leste on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Presenting the report, Ivo Valente, Minister of Justice, said that Timor-Leste attached great importance to the rights of the child and reflected its commitment to the universal values and principles enshrined in the Convention by reforming its legal framework. As part of the current reform process, the Government had made amendments to the laws ranging from Penal Code to Basic Law on Education, and Civil Code to Labour Law.

Education was universal, mandatory, and free for all children without exception, continued the Mr. Valente. The Ministry of Education had developed a policy, aiming to remove barriers to the participation and learning for girls and women, the disadvantaged, the disabled, and out-of-school children. With regard to health, the country had made remarkable progress, reducing child mortality by 23 per cent between 2003 and 2010, and tripling the immunization coverage of children over the same period. The Government’s programmes and policies had also included services in the areas of health care provision, treatment, nutrition, family planning, access to information.

During the interactive dialogue, several Committee Experts acknowledged that Timor-Leste, as one of the youngest nations, was doing its best with its limited resources to ensure the protection of children’s rights. However, despite its high level of poverty, domestic violence, and maternal mortality, the State party continued to have a high fertility rate. It was concerning for the Experts that the use of violence was commonly accepted by the population. Furthermore, the rate of teenage pregnancies remained high, affecting the school drop-out rates of girls. Accordingly, Experts highlighted the need to take measures with regard to family planning and counselling services in sexual and reproductive health. Among other issues, Experts raised questions about child labour, civil rights, birth registration, violence against children, constitutional reform, awareness raising programmes, discrimination against children with disabilities, best interest of the child, role of civil society, corporal punishment, the Ombudsman for Children, care centres, domestic and international adoption, juvenile justice, migrants and refugees, abortion, and the involvement of children in armed conflict.

Jose Angel Rodriguez Reyes, Committee Member and Country Co-Rapporteur for Timor-Leste, in closing remarks, fully acknowledged the limitations of the State party and the progress it had made over the years. It was hoped that the State party would comply with the recommendations made by the Experts.

Mr. Valente, in concluding remarks, stated that the difficulty sometimes was in the implementation of the laws and policies in line with the international standards. Regardless of the financial limitations and domestic problems, the delegation promised that the Government would continue to work to achieve the full protection of the children’s rights.

The delegation of Timor-Leste included representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Solidarity and Social, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Commission of the Rights of Child, Secretariat of State for Employment Policy and Vocational Training, and the Ministry of Health.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 10 a.m. on Monday, 28 September, to consider the initial report of Madagascar under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/MDG/1), and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/MDG/1).

Report

The combined second to third periodic report of Timor-Leste (CRC/C/TLS/2-3) is available here.

Presentation of the Report

IVO VALENTE, Minister of Justice, said that Timor-Leste had become a sovereign State in 2002. Since its independence, Timor-Leste had ratified most of the human rights treaties, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It reflected the country’s strong commitment to upholding universal values and principles enshrined in the Convention.

After the adoption of its first periodic report, Timor-Leste had established a range of legal instruments and implemented them as part of the ongoing reform of its legal framework, contributing to the improvement of the protection of children’s rights. The current report, accordingly, outlined the improved legislation since the previous reporting period. Such changes included the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Civil Code, Basic Law on Education, Law against Domestic Violence, Witness Protection Law, Labour Law, and the Penal Execution Regime.

Timor-Leste’s Basic Law of Education guaranteed that education was universal, mandatory and free for all children without exception. The National Education Strategies Plan and the Annual Action Plan of the Ministry of Education stated that education was for all without discrimination, with an aim to improve gender balance at schools. In that regard, the Government had developed the “Priority Programme 6”, focusing on social inclusion. The Policy aimed to remove barriers to the participation and learning for girls and women, the disadvantaged, the disabled, and out-of-school children. As over 50 per cent of the population was under 19 years old, Timor-Leste needed to focus on the education and the technical and professional qualification of its young people.

In order to protect the rights of children with disabilities, the Ministry of Health had worked with both national and international partners to develop specific activities to ensure the realisation of their fundamental rights. In the near future, the Ministry was planning to collaborate with partners to develop a comprehensive policy and strategy for the implementation of activities for such children.

The Ministry of Health had developed a strategic plan for the period 2011-2030, defining in-debt child protection as a priority, and consequently mainstreaming the principle of the best interest of the child in all of its programmes and activities. In that regard, the National Measles, Rubella, and Polio Immunisation campaign had been conducted by the Government, reaching 93 per cent of all Timorese children under the age of 15. Furthermore, the country had made a remarkable progress in the area of children’s health over the previous ten years, with a 23 per cent reduction in child mortality recorded between 2003 and 2010. The immunisation coverage of children aged between 12 and 23 months had almost tripled over the same period. In relation to the Basic Package of Services Strategy, Timor-Leste had also provided integrated health services to the community such as health care provision, treatment, nutrition, family planning to community development activities to improve access to health information.

Reflecting the Government’s commitment to the rights of the child, the organisational structure of the National Commission on the Rights of the Child had been approved in May 2014. The Commission had been transferred from the administrative authority of the Minister of Justice to the Minister of State, Coordinator of Social Affairs and Minister of Education. That transfer would allow for a better coordination and comprehensive development of public policies in social areas, accounting for a better provision of services.
Despite the progress made in several areas, Timor-Leste was constantly seeking ways to improve the implementation of the rights of the child in the country. Due to the inexistence of a national central database on children, very few Ministries were capable of utilising and integrating the collected data for the development of new policies and programmes.

Questions by Experts

RENATE WINTER, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Timor-Leste, said that Timor-Leste was one of the youngest nations in the world. Acknowledging the progress made by the State party, she assured the delegation of her awareness about the current problems of Timor-Leste. According to the recent data, the State party had a very high rate of poverty, domestic violence and maternal mortality. The country had a very high fertility rate as well.
Concerning the legislation, Ms. Winter stated that the Committee could not praise the State party for its plans but rather for the realisation of the policies and programmes. She inquired if the State party was planning to establish an ombudsman for children.
On the violence against children, the Expert said that the law prohibited the use of violence in all settings, yet such practise was commonly accepted by the population. She then inquired whether the State party was planning to create a campaign to prevent violence against children.
JOSE ANGEL RODRIGUES REYES, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Timor-Leste, stated that the Constitution guaranteed the elimination of discrimination against children. However, what mattered was the full implementation of the law. What type of measures had the Government taken in terms of awareness-raising to reverse discriminatory practises?
The Civil Code did recognise the right of children to be heard. What policies were implemented to ensure that children’s views were indeed heard effectively?
Another Expert asked whether the civil society had taken part in the preparation of the periodic report.
How did the Government integrate the best interest of the child in its policies and programmes?
Another Expert inquired whether birth registration centres existed in all districts, including remote and rural areas.
Replies by the Delegation
The Civil Code defined all persons under 17 as children. The State party did not plan to amend such age and increase it to 18.
On the progress made with regard to birth registration, a delegate noted that there was a Memorandum of Understanding between the central hospital and referral hospitals, which included clinics at the administrative post level and health posts at the village level, as well as monitoring the registration of births in rural and remote areas.
Timor-Leste had adopted a compulsory birth registration system. Accordingly, all children were born with the right to have their birth registered and to receive a birth certificate from the State, issued by the National Directorate of Registry and Notary Services. Children who had been separated from their parents or those whose biological father was unknown had the right to access the registry through the family that was responsible for them, based on declarations provided to the National Directorate of Registry and Notary Services.
The delegation informed that the State had adopted measures relating to any form of violence against children in schools. The Ministry of Education had a zero tolerance approach to any form of violence against children in schools. If such an act occurred, then the teacher or school employee would be removed from hisr position, and the crime would be prosecuted in accordance with the criminal law.
In accordance with the data of 2011, the majority of the population had access to processed water. However, most of the schools in Timor-Leste did not still have drinking water available for students and teachers. Recently, the Government had initiated a programme to overcome the problem.
The Government was collaborating with donors and had a commitment to providing operation and maintaining services to the clean water systems in rural areas, especially for clean water systems that used solar-powered or electrical powered pumps. Such efforts aimed at ensuring access to safe drinking water, sanitation and housing, especially in rural areas.
The rate of teenage pregnancy remained high although there had been significant improvement in the rate since the previous reporting period. The statistics demonstrated that the age-specific fertility rate per 1,000 women in the age group of 15 to 19 years had decreased from 78 in 2003 to 51 in 2009. The Ministry of Health had been developing a range of behaviour change materials, using radio and television and other forms of media to increase awareness of the issue. Teenage pregnancy affected the drop-out rate of girls. In 2010, the Ministry of Education had finalised research on teenage pregnancy.
The study had focused on how early pregnancies affected the drop-out rates of girls, the views of students, parents, teachers and the communities in order to assist in the development of policy recommendations for their re-entry into the education system. Results of the study had demonstrated that almost half of pregnant teens were in the junior high school level. The majority of those were in rural areas. In relation to attitudes the survey had revealed that 75 per cent of families and 92 per cent of teachers had supported the return of the student to school after birth. The Ministry of Education had implemented a policy that provided access to schooling after delivery, and provided an option of school transfer.
In recognition of the need to address family planning and the needs of young people, the Group of Women Parliamentarians of Timor-Leste and the civil society had organised seven regional reproductive health consultations from March to June 2010. Topics had included sex education and teenage pregnancy, family planning and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Questions by Experts
Were migrant children registered automatically or did the Government issue birth certificates only to the residents?
What mechanisms were available to children in the case of violence, an Expert inquired. Did the Government develop a help line or a programme targeting the elimination of violence against children?

Replies by the Delegation
Regarding the complaint mechanism, a delegate noted that the law allowed children and/or their parents to approach the police in cases of violence committed against children. A task force in place would provide children with social assistance.
In line with the Constitution, abortion was a crime, the delegation explained. The National Reproductive Health Strategy ensured the integration of all reproductive health services. It promoted a rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health. The areas included increasing the knowledge of the general population on issues related to sexuality and reproductive health, promoting family planning, reducing the burden of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, and decreasing the level of prenatal and neonatal mortality.
An Adolescent Reproductive Health Working Group had been established in 2009. A task force had been formed in June 2010 to finalise the Youth Friendly Health Services National Guidelines and Health Standards. Consultations on the development of the guidelines had included young people. Those guidelines and standards had significantly improved the accessibility of reproductive health information to adolescents across the country. The Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Ministry of Education had developed that programme implemented in all 13 districts.
Regarding sexual violence, a delegate noted that incest was defined as a crime. Such act was dealt with in accordance with the criminal law.
The draft Child’s Code prohibited discrimination against children. The Code stated that no child should be subject to any discrimination, irrespective of the child’s or his parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status. Further, the Basic Law of Education provided that the education system promoted the development of a democratic and pluralistic spirit, respecting others, their personalities, ideas and individual life projects and the free exchange of ideas and opinions.
All children, including the children of migrants, could obtain a birth certificate upon the request of their parents or legal guardians.
Questions by Experts
Regarding violence against children, an Expert asked about existing mechanisms to ensure confidentiality of child.
On the elimination of sexual harassment by pupils and teachers, was there a strategy developed by the Government?
Was there any special programme executed by the Government with regards to settle internal migration, another Expert inquired.
Question was asked on how many families had benefited from the programmes targeted to reduce poverty.
What kind of protection mechanisms were available for children staying in shelters?
Majority of adoptions were conducted through informal networks, and there was no available data on the issue. An Expert asked if there was a monitoring system to keep track of the domestic and international child adoption in order to make it more transparent.
What measures were undertaken by the State party to eliminate stigmatisation against children with disabilities?
As there was dearth of information and data about children whose parents were in prisons, an Expert asked the delegation to elaborate on the issue.
What services were available to children suffering from mental illnesses? Were there enough facilities and doctors available to such children?
The delegation was asked to inform about measures taken by the Government to eliminate trafficking of persons.
On the involvement of children in the armed conflict, an Expert said that the Penal Code provided that the recruitment of minors under 17 to serve in an armed conflict was a war crime. Was there a possibility to increase such age to 18, the Expert asked.
Replies by the Delegation

A delegate stated that Timor-Leste had two official languages. The Government encouraged the institutions to provide education in both languages. However, the reality was that the majority of the population spoke only one official language. To ensure language parity, the State party needed more financial resources to provide all education materials in both languages.

Most of the teachers grew up in the rural areas. In most cases, they returned to their own villages upon graduation.

The Government had created community action plans for building or installing clean water facilities and established facility management groups to monitor the operation of clean water systems. Accordingly, clean water could flow to public tap stands, and the community could collect water that was near to their homes.

Underlining the short history of the country, the delegation said that children’s enrolment rate in preschools had increased from 13 to 30 per cent over the previous three years.

There had been considerable improvements to the enrolment rates of children, particularly in the first and second cycles of education. Despite the increase in school enrolment, a large number of children still did not go to school or were forced to abandon their studies before they completed the nine years of compulsory basic education, so that they could support their families.

Factors that contributed to drop-out were difficulties in access to school, low level of appreciation for the importance of education, and financial difficulties in relation to the hidden costs of education, such as uniforms and materials. However, according to the statistics, the enrolment rates demonstrated a clear progressive drop-out from grade 1 to grade 12. Regarding girls, there were slightly better retention rates in the early stages of school, but higher drop-out rates during secondary education.

On the question on complaint mechanisms, a delegate said that all children could file complaints regardless of their age.

In 2014, the Government had established a National Commission against Child Labour with the mission of implementing and monitoring the application of the International Labour Organization Convention No. 182. The Commission had 13 members from the Government, employer and labour organizations and the civil society. In its most recent meeting in December 2014, the Commission had approved a list of activities considered dangerous, and prohibited such work for those under the age of 18. Furthermore, the Labour Code prohibited the hiring of minors to carry out work which was likely to jeopardize their health, security and moral development.

In 2015, the Commission had also started raising awareness in the municipalities to explain to employers, workers and civil society organizations, school directors and others about the concept of child labour, forced labour and the applicable law.

Timor-Leste used the common prison system, and currently preparations were underway to implement a complementary law on the Special Penal Regime for persons between the age of 16 and 21. Timor-Leste had common prisons that had separated blocks and cells for adult prisoners or high profile people.

The Ministry of Justice was planning to construct a juvenile centre in 2016, so that those in conflict with the law could serve the sentences issued by the courts. At the community level, when children were in conflict with the law, cases could be resolved via a family mechanism. Such mechanism involved the parties who aimed to seek an amicable solution through mediation between the families, and with the payment of a fine or compensation.

The delegation said that confidentiality was an integral part of the legal procedure.

With regard to alternative family care, the delegation said that in Timor-Leste there was a culture of “extended family”. Accordingly, many children were living with their extended families.

On the question related to the “help line”, it was explained that the Government was in the process of creating such a service, which would be provided upon the completion of building necessary infrastructure.

To guarantee child protection services, the Government of Timor-Leste had established a Child Protection Network in 13 municipalities. In 2013, the Ministry of Social Solidarity had extended the Child Protection Network to 65 sub-districts. Social workers were available to ensure the functioning of the Child Protection Network, and the Government had deployed 26 Child Protection Officers at the municipality level, and 65 social workers at the sub-district level.

The Child Protection Network at the Municipal level comprised officers, focal points and representatives from the Government as well as from the civil society, operating in the field of child protection. Coordination mechanisms between members of the Child Protection Network were coordinated by the Child Protection Officers at the municipality level, and by social workers at the sub-district level. Members of the Child Protection Network had regular meetings every month at the municipality level, and quarterly at the sub-district level with the view of improving the quality of services and to update cases. When necessary, restricted “case conference” meetings were held to discuss specific and complicated cases.

Turning to the efforts in nutrition, the delegation said that it was a serious challenge that the Government was tackling with. To guarantee the implementation of programmes and policies, the Government had reviewed its 2013-2014 national strategy. In 2014, the Ministry of Health had carried out a study to understand the causes of malnutrition. The Ministry of Health was now working together with the United Nations Children’s Fund and other international and national organizations to promote and carry out interventions against acute malnutrition in the community.

Follow-Up Questions by Experts

What kind of measures were taken by the Government to implement a successful breastfeeding policy, an Expert asked. Was the State party planning to commercialize the breast milk?

Question was asked whether the State party criminalised the recruitment of children under the age of 18 by the armed groups.

With regard to early childhood development, an Expert inquired about the State party’s policy for children under the age of three.

Replies by the Delegation

A delegate said that breastfeeding was one of the top priorities outlined in the National Strategy. Breastfeeding was nearly universal in Timor-Leste. According to the Timor-Leste Demographic and Health Survey, 97 percent of children born in the previous five years had been breastfed for some time. On average four out of five children were breastfed within the first hour of birth, and 96 per cent were breastfed within one day of birth. Those figures represented significant increases in the percentage of children who were breastfed early.

The Ministry of Health had prioritised a number of programmes which focused on maternal and child health. Extensive programmes supported exclusive breastfeeding, provided essential care for new-born babies, and addressed Vitamin A and iron deficiencies. The Government had initiated programmes focused on providing training to health officials in order to further increase their knowledge and skills. The programmes had also targeted improving the quality of services provided at the hospitals and other health centres.

The Government had conducted national campaigns to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among students in pre-secondary schools and universities, religious institutions, local authorities at the municipality level and in remote areas. It was expected that the general community would by now have sufficient knowledge about the transmission of the virus and know to protect itself. The Ministry of Health was working together with United Nations agencies, international and national non-governmental organisations, religious institutions, the Army, the police, community leaders, civil society, the Ministry of Social Solidarity and the National Commission for Combating HIV-AIDS in Timor-Leste.

On human trafficking, the delegation informed that Timor-Leste had ratified the International Labour Convention 182 in 2009. The Law Against Human Trafficking had been approved by the Council of Ministers in 2015. Article 31 of that law stated that a commission named CLASH would be established to address the law on human trafficking, and it would be responsible for the drafting and coordination of a National Action Plan on human trafficking.

It was recognised that ill-treatment occurred in schools in the form of corporal punishment and verbal abuse. The Ministry of Education had developed a policy of “zero tolerance” for teachers who displayed such behaviour. A coordinated multi-agency approach had been taken by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Social Solidarity and the Timor-Leste National Police Vulnerable Persons Unit in order to increase teacher awareness and implement the policy. Both Ministries had collaborated and disseminated information to children regarding their protection in the school environment. That approach also aimed to assist and support students so that they might report potential situations of ill-treatment in schools. There had been instances where teachers had been prosecuted for corporal punishment of their students.

On the question related to corporal punishment within the family environment, a delegate stated that parents were subject to prosecution for excessive discipline. There had previously been prosecutions for parental abuse based on excessive corporal punishment.

There was no obligatory military service in Timor-Leste, the delegation explained. The law banned the recruitment of children under the age of 18 by the Armed Forces.

The Ministry of Education did not have a specific policy on early childhood development. However, in December 2015, a meeting would be held with the United Nations Children’s Fund to address the issue.

Responding to the questions related to international adoption, the delegation said that Timor-Leste did not have any regulations for international adoptions. However, the Civil Code was currently used to cover domestic adoptions.

The Government had plans to develop a separate legal regime to regulate both domestic and international adoption; the Ministry of Justice was expected to draft a specific Adoption Act in 2016. Adoption was already subject to a system of strict control, including judicial supervision. However, the legal regime would provide a comprehensive framework suitable to the Timor-Leste context. The Ministry of Social Solidarity also played an important role in the adoption process. It was responsible for conducting assessments to determine the suitability of the adopting family in order to guarantee the child’s protection and full development. Those assessments were done with the notion of the best interest of the child. The assessments were relied upon by the courts when considering applications for adoptions.

There was no data available demonstrating the extent of adoption at national or inter-country level. The majority of adoptions continued to occur informally through families and extended families according to custom and culture. Such adoptions were not currently subject to any law or policies.

Concluding Remarks

JOSE ANGEL RODRIGUEY REYES, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Timor-Leste, said that the Committee fully acknowledged the limitations of the State party, and appreciated the progress made over the years. He hoped that the State party would comply with the recommendations made by the Experts.

IVO VALENTE, Minister of Justice, thanked all the Committee Members for their questions and comments. The difficulty was the implementation of the laws and policies in line with the international standards. Regardless of the financial limitations and domestic problems, the delegation promised that the Government would continue to work to achieve the full protection of the children’s rights. The Government looked forward to receiving the Committee’s recommendations.

BENYAM DAWIT MEYMUR, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the State party representatives for their detailed answers to the questions. He encouraged the delegation to ratify the Third Optional Protocol. Despite existing challenges and shortcomings, Timor-Leste had managed to make progress and show resilience. Mr. Meymur said that he looked forward to receiving the upcoming reports, and sent his best wishes to the children of Timor-Leste.

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