UNICEF calls for approval of critical laws to protect children in Timor-Leste

UNICEF calls for approval of critical laws to protect children in Timor-Leste


DILI, 19 october 2023 (TATOLI) – Bilal Aurang Zeb Durrani, the Country Representative of UNICEF in Timor-Leste calls for the approval of a number of critical laws to protect Timorese children.

He said that these laws are designed to protect children from harm and abuse, but have remained in draft for too long. These laws are:

  • The Juvenile Justice Law (Pending since 2010);
  • The Children Code (Pending since 2010);
  • The Decree-Law on Social Service Capacity Development (Pending Since 2021)
  • Legal Framework to professionalize Social Service workforce to support the child protection system (Still absent);
  • Decree-Law on registration and licensing of residential care facilities are inadequate to regularize residential care institutions (Still absent)
  • Adoption Law (Still absent)

Durrani said UNICEF is committed to supporting actions that give every child the best start to life – a life where good health, nurturing care, education, and protection from violence are guaranteed.

According to Durrani death, poverty, abuse, violence, and neglect are some of the factors which result in many children seeking alternative care in the 41 residential care facilities that are situated across the country.

“Sadly, children who find themselves at residential care facilities, often face additional traumas as they do not always get adequate emotional and social support.

Durrani highlighted that according to article nine of the Convention on the Rights of the Children (CRC) which was ratified by Timor-Leste in 2003, the family environment must provide the best environment for a child’s growth and development: “However, the society we live in does not allow for all children to remain in the care of their families.”

Durrani called on relevant parties to have a deep dive into three main issues to support children who are deprived of parental support and to make sure that Timor-Leste has a fully functioning and supportive alternative care system in the country.

“Firstly, many children are forced into residential care facilities because of violence, abuse, and stigmatization at home or in society. There is therefore an urgent need for a conductive legislative and law enforcement environment to protect children and keep them out of the residential care facilities. In addition, the juvenile justice system needs strengthening to ensure that we have adequate mechanisms to provide appropriate care and support to all children who come in contact with the law.  Already UNICEF has been working closely with the Ministry of Justice to integrate a Child Rights module in the judicial training school and strengthening the skills of legal professionals to defend the rights of Children during court proceedings,” he explained.

“Secondly, a lot of work is needed to regularize residential care facilities and to ensure that these institutions serve the best interest of every child. In 2008, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion (MoSSI), to establish policy and procedures for orphanages and boarding houses and we continue to provide technical support to MoSSI to turn this policy into a decree-law. I therefore look forward to the finalization of the decree-law which will provide a legal mandate to MoSSI to monitor and supervise the functionality of institutional care facilities that provide alternative care for children. This decree-law will also provide guidelines to ensure that alternative care homes provide a protective environment which is provided for the best interests of the child.”

“Lastly, Global research continues to tell us that residential care facilities cannot replace a family. The health. Development and life chances of children growing up in residential care facilities are often low, while children at these institutions face high risks of abuse and emotional neglect. Residential care facilities should be the last resort or only a temporary solution for childcare. UNICEF therefore calls on the Government, Civil Society Organizations, and Religious Bodies to build community systems which support and encourage extended family members to look after children who are deprived of parental care, and to shift societies’ resilience of residential care facilities for the raising of children,” said Durrani.

On february 2023, Timor-Leste’s National Parliament approved the law of ‘Protection Law for Children and Youth in Danger’. The law provides the broad framework under which children will be legally eligible for protection from any forms of violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The law provides a framework for protection – including prevention measures – assigns responsibilities to relevant authorities and sets out processes for action when child rights are violated.

The law aimed to contribute to the establishment of a comprehensive protection system in line with the international commitments to protecting the safety and well-being of children.

It also defines the role of the state in supporting orphanages and fostering care institutions where children may face any threats that could harm the physical or psychological integrity, safety, health, training, education, or development of children and young people.

The law also authorizes authorities, especially the civil courts to take away children, and young people who are at risk from their parents.

According to the first paragraph of Article 18 of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, minors “have the right to special protection by the family, the community and the State, particularly against all forms of abandonment, discrimination, violence, oppression, sexual abuse, and exploitation.

Children enjoy all the rights that are universally recognized, as well as all those that are enshrined in international conventions regularly ratified or approved by the State.


Journalist: Camilio de Sousa

Editor: Filomeno Martins


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