Paulina Quintao – The Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) has acknowledged that it was difficult for victims of sexual abuse, particularly incest, to return to their families and society.
Department Head for the Protection and Promotion of Child Rights DomiNGOs Fernandes said the government was in charge of helping victims return to their families after the completion of the legal process.
He acknowledged that it was often difficult to convince families and the wider society to accept victims of abuse. This was because families considered that their dignity had been tarnished.
"It's difficult for them (victims) to go back to their families because it (abuse) happens within the family and some of the families are disappointed this happened," he said at Hotel Timor, Dili.
Often it takes two to four years for families to accept victims of abuse, although he said child protection officers continued to work with families during the process.
He said officers also carried out an assessment before victims were returned to their families to help prevent such violence occurring again. While their cases are being heard, victims of abuse are supported by the government and stay at the Casa Vida shelter, FOKUPERS or other organizations.
There are high rates of violence against children in Timor-Leste, mostly involving sexual abuse and incest. Data from 2015 to June 2016 showed that MSS had returned more than 73 children to their families during the period.
Meanwhile, lawyer Marcelina Amaral said the law in its current form did not provide maximum protection for victims of incest.
Based on the experience of the Women and Children's Legal Aid (ALFeLa) many incest cases are lodged at the Prosecution Department, but fail to make any progress due to a lack of evidence and doubts over whether the victim consented or not.
"It is impossible that a daughter wants to have sex with her father," said Amaral. In order to reduce the high rates, Amaral said the penal code needed to be revised and a specific article added about incest.
The President of the Timor-Leste Parliamentary Women's Group (GMPTL), Florentina Smith, said the penal code revision was scheduled, but had not yet been discussed as some other important laws such as land and suku (village) laws had been prioritized for discussion first.
"It is a serious crime and Timor is a country where the majority of people are Catholics, [so] we do not accept it," she said.'