Cablegate: Timor-Leste: Worst Forms of Child Labor Update
DE RUEHDT #0041/01 0430433
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 120433Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY DILI
TO RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3850
INFO RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 0119
RUEHDT/AMEMBASSY DILI 3273
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 DILI 000041
DOL/ILAB - MCCARTER AND DRL/IL - TU DANG
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB EIND ETRD PHUM SOCI TT
SUBJECT: TIMOR-LESTE: WORST FORMS OF CHILD LABOR UPDATE
REF: 07 STATE 00158223
1. Summary. Child labor in Timor-Leste is pervasive but
difficult to quantify. Hard data is largely unavailable. All
stakeholders agree that it is a problem, but the GOTL,
preoccupied with the fundamental tasks of preserving public
order, has not yet had sufficient means, capacity, or stability
to implement programs to address it. Children work in
agriculture, as street and market vendors, and as domestic
laborers. Fortunately, the absolute worst forms of child labor
such as prostitution, exploitation in pornography, forced
conscription, and use in drug trafficking have not taken root to
any appreciable extent here. End summary.
2. With a population of just under one million, Timor-Leste is
a predominantly rural, agrarian society in which child labor has
been the norm from time immemorial. It is the poorest country
in Asia, with a per capita income of $370 per year in urban
areas and $150 per year in rural areas. Unemployment is 50
percent. Subsistence farming remains Timor-Leste's primary form
of economic activity, and well over half the population lives or
works on farms. The fertility rate, 7.8 percent, may be the
highest in the world, and 53 percent of the population is under
19 years of age. Accordingly, children work both to supplement
their families' income and to learn livelihoods. Child labor
remains widespread in agriculture, fishing, construction, street
and market vending, and domestic service.
3. After years of civil war, Timor-Leste attained independence
in 2002. Its brief post-independence experience has been
turbulent; the country has not yet recovered from a political
crisis in 2006 that led to a United Nations-led international
intervention to restore public order. National elections in
June 2007, followed by further unrest in August, led to the
installation of a new government. This instability has produced
a significant population of 70,000 internally displaced persons
(IDPs), which forms a pool of unemployed children and youth who
are potentially vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor.
4. This instability, combined with the extremely low capacity
of Timor-Leste's political leadership and weakness of its
administrative and judicial institutions, means that the
government is preoccupied with existential priorities and is
present poorly equipped to combat the worst forms of child labor.
5. However, the picture is not entirely bleak. Affirming the
importance of protecting children from exploitation, the GOTL
has ratified major conventions upholding the rights of the child
and is working with various United Nations agencies to
strengthen and implement child protection measures. These
should progress given the UN's long-term tutelary relationship
with Timor-Leste's fledgling institutions. Also, while child
labor itself is widespread, it is encouraging that there is no
evidence that some of its worst forms, including production or
sale of child pornography and involvement of children in drug
trafficking or production, are taking place in Timor-Leste.
A: Laws And Regulations Prohibiting The Worst Forms Of Child
6. Timor-Leste ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child on April 16, 2003 and has also acceded to the Optional
Protocols on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict
(August 2, 2004) and the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution
and Child Pornography (January 2, 2003).
7. Timor-Leste has not yet ratified the two ILO Conventions
relating to child labor, number 182 (Prohibition and Immediate
Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor)
and number 138 (Minimum Age For Admission to Employment).
According to ILO sources in Dili, the GOTL plans to ratify these
conventions in the near future. A tri-partite body on labor
issues comprising representatives of labor, employers, and
government confirmed to the ILO on December 15 that it has made
ratification of these conventions one of its most urgent
8. However, Timor-Leste's existing Labor Code contains
provisions consistent with those contained on conventions 138
and 182. Section 11 prohibits work by children between the ages
of 15 and 18 which is likely to jeopardize their health, safety
on morals. A similar prohibition applies to "light work"
legally performed by children between the ages of 12 and 15.
The Labor Code does not specify penalties or sanctions for
violations of these provisions. A challenge to enforcement is
the difficulty in determining the exact age of a child suspected
of involvement in proscribed forms of labor. Many births are
not registered. For children under the age of five, the ILO
estimates this figure may as high as 80 percent.
9. Legal minimum age is 15, although Section 2 of the Labor
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Code explicitly permits "light work" for children as young as 12.
10. Timor-Leste's Penal Code is currently under revision.
According to international consultants to the Ministry of Social
Solidarity, the new code will specify penalties for violations
of this code.
11. Timor-Leste does not have compulsory military service. The
Armed Forces of Timor-Leste (F-FDTL) currently has about 720
active duty personnel. Recruitment age is 18. Post has seen no
evidence of underage recruitment.
B. Regulations For Implementation And Enforcement of
Proscriptions Against WFCL.
12. Timor-Leste's Labor Code establishes a National Division of
Social Services whose functions include "work and welfare of
children" and "labor inspections." The government of
Timor-Leste currently has fewer than ten trained labor
inspectors, which means that its current capacity for enforcing
its labor code is negligible. In 2007, a study of child labor
carried out by the ILO found that 80 percent of its respondents
entered the workforce before the age of twelve, which suggest
rampant disregard for the national labor code.
13. Nonetheless, there are isolated instances of enforcement.
In what appears to be a unique case, authorities closed a
textile shop in late 2007. The concern appeared to be using
coerced underage labor to produce cloth weavings. The case
remains under investigation.
C. Programs Specifically Designed To Prevent And Withdraw
Children From WFCL
14. The Government of Timor-Leste has no programs specifically
aimed at preventing the worst forms of child labor. The
National Police has recently established a Vulnerable Persons
Unit that could be used to extend protection to any children
victimized in prostitution, trafficking, or similar activities.
Until the GOTL expands its capacity in this area, a variety of
NGOs, international organizations, and faith-based groups are
carrying out projects targeting unemployed and displaced youth.
While these have a positive impact on children's and youth
welfare, their impact on the child labor situation is indirect.
D. Comprehensive Policy Aimed At WFCL.
15. Primary and secondary education is free but not compulsory.
The population as a whole remains poorly educated, and dropping
out is common. A 2007 survey of living standards found that 78
percent of children between the ages of seven and sixteen were
enrolled in school. Of those who were not in school at that
age, only single-digit figures cited "work" as the reason for
this. Almost one-third not in school, however, said "no
interest," and such respondents are likely in the work force.
However, the survey found that in rural areas, almost eighty
percent of young people between the ages of five and nineteen
were not attending school. The ILO survey of working children
found that 70.6 percent of respondents claimed that they
combined school with work, and 70.2 percent claim that their
work has impacted negatively on their education.
E. Progress Toward Eliminating WFCL
16. The Government of Timor-Leste does not compile statistics
information on child labor. In 2004, the World Bank estimated
that 35 percent of children aged 10 - 14 were in the labor
force. UNICEF's 2003 Poverty Assessment, however, reported that
only ten percent of children in this age group were in the work
force. However, the ILO, meeting with unions, government
officials, employers, churches, and international organizations
in 2007 reported that stakeholders unanimously agreed that child
labor is widespread and a significant problem in Timor-Leste.
Child labor is most pervasive in the following sectors: street
and market vending (sales of fruit, vegetables, drinks, fuel,
newspapers, mobile phone cards, DVDs); agriculture; domestic
work; construction; and fishing.
17. In Timor-Leste, children from rural areas are sometimes
informally "adopted" by relatives or others living in Dili,
Baucau, or other towns where they are required to perform
domestic work in order to earn their keep. The 2007 ILO study of
child labor found that 31.5 of working children interviewed were
living in such situations. Although there is no hard data
available about the total number of children in such situations,
NGOs and other stakeholders concerned with the general welfare
of children in Timor-Leste consider this practice a serious
problem. Inasmuch that this practice separates children from
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their immediate families for the purposes of labor, it may be
regarded as a form of trafficking. The ILO's 2007 report on
child labor found that fully 100 percent of children surveyed
involved in domestic labor lived apart from their parents.
18. Prostitution is not illegal in Timor-Leste, but information
on child prostitution is anecdotal and reliable data are
unavailable. The ILO report on child labor explicitly exempted
prostitution from its scope, however it noted that such
prostitution occurred in Dili and Suai, and that "communities in
border are at most risk." In its October 2007 report to the
Child's Rights Committee Members meeting in Geneva, a coalition
of NGOs stated that while trafficking of children in Timor-Leste
had not occurred since independence, "reports about the
involvement of East Timorese girls in the production of
pornographic materials such as DVDs and pictures have raised
public concern. Pornography from external media influences is
also having an adverse impact on children because they are often
used to sell pornographic DVD's and pictures and therefore often
become the target of arrest and detention for distribution of
19. In terms of gender breakdown, the ILO survey found that in
domestic work, 50.8 percent of working children were female,
while 49.2 were male. Street vendors were 61.2 percent make and
38.7 percent female. Children working in agriculture were 44.4
percent female and 55.6 percent male. Of the major sectors of
child work, agriculture is the most dangerous. An estimated 25
percent of Timor-Leste's population is dependent on income from
coffee, and accordingly a large segment of child labor is
engaged in its cultivation and processing. Hazards associated
with coffee farming are injuries from work implements, falling
from trees, and insect bites, which can lead to serious disease.
In the ILO survey, 62.9 percent of children working in
agriculture reported being ill within the last four weeks, which
was twenty percent higher than reported by children employed in