Rape and Domestic Violence: Gender-based violence remained a serious concern. A 2016 Asia Foundation study found that 59 percent of girls and women between 15 and 49 years old had experienced sexual or physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner and that 14 percent of girls and women had been raped by someone other than a partner. Although rape, including marital rape, is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison, failures to investigate or prosecute cases of alleged rape and sexual abuse were common. Nevertheless, the formal justice system addressed an increasing number of reported domestic and sexual abuse cases.
The law broadly covers all forms of domestic violence, including marital rape, and augments the Penal Code. Penalties for “Mistreatment of a Spouse” include two to six years imprisonment; however, prosecutors frequently used a different article in domestic violence cases (“Simple Offenses against Physical Integrity”), which carries a sentence of up to three years in prison. Judicial observers noted judges were lenient in sentencing in domestic violence cases. Local NGOs viewed the law as having a positive effect by encouraging victims of domestic violence to report their cases to police.
According to the Office of the Prosecutor General, domestic violence offenses were the second-most commonly charged crimes in the criminal justice system, after simple assault. Several NGOs criticized the failure to issue protection orders and over-reliance on suspended sentences, even in cases involving significant bodily harm. Prosecutors routinely charged cases involving aggravated injury and use of deadly weapons as low-level simple assaults.
Police, prosecutors, and judges routinely ignored many parts of the law that protect victims. NGOs noted that fines were paid to the court and often came from shared family resources, further hurting the victim.
The PNTL’s Vulnerable Persons Units (VPUs) generally handled cases of domestic violence and sexual crimes, but does not have enough staff to provide a significant presence in all areas of the country.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity is charged with providing assistance to victims of domestic violence. Due to staff shortages, the ministry had difficulty responding to all cases. To deal with this problem, the ministry worked closely with local NGOs and service providers to offer assistance to victims of violence.
Sexual Harassment: The labor code prohibits sexual harassment in the work place, but such harassment reportedly was widespread. Relevant authorities processed no such cases during the year (see section 7.d.).
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
Discrimination: The constitution states that “women and men shall have the same rights and duties in all areas of family life and political, economic, social, cultural life,” but it does not specifically address discrimination. The country’s Permanent Representative to the UN acknowledged that “women are often still the primary target of social discrimination” in a September speech. Some customary practices discriminate against women, including traditional inheritance systems that tend to exclude women from land ownership.
Some communities continued to practice the payment of a bride price as part of marriage agreements (barlake); this practice has been linked to domestic violence and to the inability to leave an abusive relationship. Some communities also continued the practice of forcing a widow to either marry one of her husband’s family members or, if she and her husband did not have children together, leave her husband’s home.
The secretary of state for gender equality and social inclusion is responsible for the promotion of gender equality. More than 30 NGOs focused and collaborated on women’s issues. During the parliamentary election campaign, this advocacy network signed pacts with the leaders of seven major political parties to uphold and defend the rights of women and children in the program for the new government.
Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship through birth within the country or by having a citizen parent or grandparent. A central civil registry lists a child’s name at birth and issues birth certificates. According to the 2015 census, birth registration rates were high, with no discernible difference in the rates of registration for girls and boys. While access to services such as schooling does not depend on birth registration, birth registration is necessary to acquire a passport. Registration later in life requires only a reference from the village chief.
Education: The constitution stipulates that primary education shall be compulsory and free. The law requires nine years of compulsory education beginning at six years of age; however, there is no system to ensure that the provision of education is free. Public schools were tuition-free, but students paid for supplies and uniforms. According to government statistics, the net access rate for primary education was 88 percent, while the net access rate for secondary education was 32 percent. Non-enrollment was substantially higher in rural than in urban areas. While initial attendance rates for boys and girls were similar, girls often were forced to leave school if they became pregnant and faced difficulty in obtaining school documents or transferring schools. Lack of sanitation facilities at some schools also led some girls to drop out upon reaching puberty.
Child Abuse: The law protects against child abuse; however, abuse in many forms was common. Sexual abuse of children remained a serious concern. Despite widespread reports of child abuse, few cases entered the judicial system. Observers criticized the courts for handing down shorter sentences than prescribed by law in numerous cases of sexual abuse of children during the year.
While the Ministry of Education has a zero tolerance policy for corporal punishment, there is no law on the issue, and reports indicated the practice was common.
Early and Forced Marriage: Although a marriage cannot be registered until the younger spouse is at least age 16, cultural, religious and civil marriages were recognized in the civil code. Cultural pressure to marry, especially if a girl or woman becomes pregnant, was strong. Underage couples cannot officially marry, but are often married de facto once they have children together. Forced marriage rarely occurred, although reports indicated that social pressure sometimes encouraged victims of rape to marry their attacker or persons to enter into an arranged marriage where a bride price was paid. According to the most recent information from UNICEF (2015), an estimated 19 percent of girls married prior to the age of 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual assault against children was a significant problem, but largely unaddressed. The age of consent is 14, according to the Penal Code. Some commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred. The penal code makes sexual conduct by an adult with anyone below the age of 17 a crime, and increases penalties when such conduct involves victims younger than 14. The penal code also makes both child prostitution and child pornography crimes. It defines a “child” for purposes of those provisions as a “minor less than 17 years of age. The penal code also criminalizes abduction of a minor.
There were reports that child victims of sexual abuse were sometimes forced to testify in public fora despite a witness protection law that provides for video link or other secure testimony.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There was no indigenous Jewish population, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution grants equal rights to and prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in addition to requiring the state to protect them. No specific legislation addresses the rights and/or support of persons with disabilities.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Health is responsible for treating mental disabilities. In many municipalities, children with disabilities were unable to attend school due to accessibility problems. Beginning in 2016, the Ministry of Social Solidarity worked with the Ministries of Health and Education on an inclusive education pilot program to improve access to education for people with disabilities.
Electoral regulations provide accommodations, including personal assistance, to enable persons with disabilities to vote.
Service providers noted that domestic violence and sexual assault against persons with disabilities was a growing concern. They indicated that such cases had been slow to receive support from the justice sector. Persons with mental disabilities accused of crimes are entitled to special protections by law. Prisons did not have specific supports for persons with mental disabilities.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The constitution and law are silent on same-sex relations and other matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. The PDHJ worked with civil society organization CODIVA (Coalition on Diversity and Action) to increase awareness in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community regarding processes available for human rights complaints. While physical abuse in public or by public authorities was uncommon, LGBTI persons were often verbally abused and discriminated against in some public services, including medical centers. CODIVA noted that transgender members of the community were particularly vulnerable to harassment and discrimination. A November study conducted for Rede Feto, a national women’s advocacy network, with lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men in Dili and Bobonaro documented the use by family members of corrective rape, physical and psychological abuse, ostracism, discrimination, and marginalization against LGBTI individuals.
Access to education was limited for some LGBTI persons who were removed from the family home or who feared abuse at school. Transgender students were more likely to experience bullying and drop out of school at the secondary level.
In June members of civil society organized Timor-Leste’s first-ever Pride March in Dili. The march included participation from students, activists, and a representative of the Prime Minister’s Office. Then prime minister Araujo met with LGBTI organizations and called for acceptance of LGBTI individuals on his official Facebook and Twitter accounts.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
The National AIDS Commission is responsible for providing information, programming, and campaigns on HIV/AIDS; however, no government body was tasked with providing specific services and advocacy. According to civil society organizations, HIV and AIDS patients experienced social stigma and were ostracized by their families and communities.