Canossian Sister Guilhermina Marçal (left) was one of the speakers at a forum held by UN Women and the Catholic Relief Service in Dili on Sept. 30 to address violence against women and children. (Photo: UN Women Timor-Leste)
The United Nations and a Catholic charity group have teamed up with religious institutions in Timor-Leste to tackle domestic violence.
UN Women and Catholic Relief Service (CRS) hosted a forum involving representatives from Catholic, Protestant and Muslim groups on Sept. 30, with the theme “Stop Violence, Strengthens Healthy Relationships.”
It came under a European Union-funded Global Spotlight Initiative aimed at accelerating efforts to end violence against women and children, which is also a UN Sustainable Development Goal to be hopefully achieved by 2030.
Yane Tamonob Pinto, CRS country manager for Timor-Leste, said they want religious institutions involved to broaden efforts to end domestic violence, “which is still considered a normal thing."
"We recognize the role of the Church and other religious leaders can have in helping the community spiritually to prevent violence," state news agency Tatoli quoted her as saying.
Sexual and gender-based violence is a serious issue in Timor-Leste where, according to a study conducted by the Asia Foundation and Australian Aid in 2015, some 47 percent of women suffer physical, psychological or sexual abuse at the hands of their partners.
They must really understand their responsibilities as a husband or wife. This is one of the mechanisms to prevent family conflict
Meanwhile, around 87 percent, or more than 612,000 children, in the country experience physical or emotional violence at home, according to a 2019 report called “Unseen, Unsafe: Underinvestment in Ending Violence Against Children in the Pacific and Timor-Leste.”
The report, by Save the Children, ChildFund, World Vision and Plan International, also states that 30 percent of adolescent girls in the country have experienced physical violence.
Canossian Sister Guilhermina Marçal, who represented the Catholic Church at the meeting, underlined the importance of preventing such violence, which she said should start with counseling couples before marriage.
“They must really understand their responsibilities as a husband or wife. This is one of the mechanisms to prevent family conflict,” she said.
She also said the Catholic Church continues to urge all young people not to jump into marriage early. "This also contributes to domestic violence," the nun said.
According to UNICEF, a 2018 study revealed that 19 percent of women aged 20-24 in Timor-Leste marry before age 18.
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