Last Updated: Friday, 23 February 2018, 15:21 GMT

Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - Timor-Leste

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 16 June 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - Timor-Leste, 16 June 2009, available at: [accessed 24 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Timor-Leste is a destination country for women from Indonesia, Thailand, the People's Republic of China, Malaysia, and the Philippines trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, and a destination for men from Burma trafficked for the purpose of forced labor. Timor-Leste has a growing internal trafficking problem, mainly women and children lured to Dili from rural areas or camps for internally displaced persons with offers of employment and subsequently forced into prostitution. Transnational traffickers, who may be members of organized crime syndicates, typically recruit and control their victims through fraud and psychological coercion.

The Government of Timor-Leste does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so despite limited resources. During the year, the government improved counter-trafficking coordination among ministries, trained officials and law enforcement agents on human trafficking, implemented a birth registration program as a form of preventing trafficking, established procedures to identify victims among foreign women arrested for prostitution, and increased trafficking awareness among vulnerable populations. The government, however, did not arrest or prosecute any trafficking offenders, though officials identified some trafficking victims, and has not investigated persistent reports of law enforcement agents accepting bribes from traffickers.

Recommendations for Timor-Leste: Enact the draft Penal Code provisions on trafficking in persons; increase investigations, prosecutions, and punishment of trafficking offenders; train law enforcement officers on victim identification and protection; institute formal procedures for referring victims to service providers; and investigate, prosecute, and punish government officials who accept bribes to facilitate sex trafficking.


The Government of Timor-Leste demonstrated a minimal increase in anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts over the past year. Although both labor and sex trafficking victims were identified, the government did not investigate, arrest or prosecute any trafficking offenders. The Ministry of Justice drafted a new Timor-Leste Penal Code, which defines and punishes all forms of trafficking and provides protection to witnesses and victims. The Penal Code is awaiting approval by the Council of Ministers. During the year, trafficking cases could have been prosecuted under provisions in the Immigration and Asylum Act of 2003. Timor-Leste prohibits all forms of sex and labor trafficking through this Act, which prescribes penalties ranging from three to 12 years' imprisonment – penalties that are sufficiently stringent but not commensurate with those prescribed for serious crimes, such as rape. The government and IOM held joint training courses on human trafficking for civil servants, immigration, police and military officers, and members of the diplomatic, civil and religious communities. The Victims' Protection Unit (VPU) of the police also received gender-protection training from two NGOs. The government did not investigate persistent reports that police officers in Dili accepted bribes or sex in exchange for tolerating brothels' exploitation of trafficking victims. Complaints that some border officials accept bribes to let trafficking victims enter Timor-Leste were also not investigated.


During the past year, the government continued to ensure victims' access to protection services provided by NGOs and international organizations, as a severe lack of resources and personnel limit the Timorese government's ability to provide services directly. The Ministry of Labor helped arrange assistance and shelter for victims of labor trafficking when cases were brought to its attention. In the absence of formal procedures, social service, immigration, and law enforcement agencies referred identified victims to NGOs for assistance on an ad hoc basis. Within the government, only the Immigration Department of the Ministry of Interior followed formal procedures to identify proactively trafficking victims among high-risk populations such as foreign women in prostitution. The government did not encourage victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenders, although victims could file civil suits or take other legal action against traffickers. The draft penal code includes witness protection provisions; the present lack of such protections makes it difficult for victims to safely step forward and make their own allegations. Victims of trafficking were arrested for offenses committed as a direct result of being trafficked. This year, however, the government began to provide victims relief from imprisonment, summary deportation, or removal to a country where they may face hardship or retribution. Officials, in consultation with IOM, were authorized to determine a person's status as a trafficking victim, rather than rely on the inefficient court system for such a determination.


Acknowledging that trafficking is a problem in the country, the Timorese government expanded its nation-wide trafficking awareness campaign in partnership with international and local NGOs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs chaired the Trafficking Working Group, which includes the Ministries of Justice, Labor, and Social Solidarity, the VPU of the national police, the Office for the Promotion of Gender Equality, and representatives from the civil, religious, diplomatic, and NGO communities. During the year, the group met twice. IOM, the government, and a local NGO implemented a comprehensive trafficking awareness program for civil servants and police officers. Anti-human trafficking posters with emergency contact numbers are now prominently displayed at most government agencies, in National Police stations throughout the districts, and the Dili port and airport. The Ministry of Social Solidarity deployed 13 child protection officers, one to each district, to monitor and manage cases of vulnerable children. Local women's and children's rights NGOs worked with the government on campaigns to raise public awareness of trafficking and to prevent the sexual abuse of children. They distributed leaflets in several communities, which include the telephone numbers for the National Social Service Division, the police, and three local and international NGOs. The government also implemented a new birth registration program and began developing a new adoption and guardianship law, as a way to make children less vulnerable to trafficking. Timor-Leste has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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