The Southeast Asian half-island nation of Timor-Leste is falling short on most Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), experts warn.
“The areas that remain challenging or off-track compared to the 2015 targets include poverty, underweight children, maternal mortality and sanitation,” Felix Piedade, the national adviser of Timor Leste’s MDG Secretariat, told IRIN.
Timor-Leste gained independence from Indonesia to become one of the world’s youngest nations in 2002 after a 25-year civil war. Six years of instability followed.
Due to Timor-Leste’s recent violence, which included attacks on the president and prime minister in 2008 and a military uprising in 2006, the UN chose it as one of nine countries worldwide to receive extra support in meeting the MDGs.
While Goal 1 includes halving the proportion of people living on less than US$1 a day, in Timor-Leste that population actually grew from 36 percent in 2001 to 50 percent in 2007, according to Piedade.
As of 2009, the rate dropped to 41 percent, still not close to meeting the goal of 14 percent set in 2004.
But there have been some improvements.
“Timor-Leste has surpassed the MDG target for 2015 for both under-five mortality rate [96/1,000 live births] and infant mortality rate [53/1,000 live births] based on targets set in 2004,” Piedade said.
The country is on track for only two of the other eight MDGs: achieving universal primary education, and promoting gender equality and empowering women, according to the UN Development Programme.
But measuring progress can be tricky.
“When you talk about gender here, there are different indicators,” said Silvia Cormaci, a gender expert in Timor-Leste.
Cormaci noted advances have been made in improving the political participation of women, who now comprise 29 percent of parliamentarians - among the highest proportion in Asia.
A new law has been passed requiring that one in three candidates in the June-July 2012 parliamentary election must be a woman.
“But 70 percent of women work in unpaid work in agriculture. And there’s big issues on domestic violence, one of the highest rates in Asia,” said Cormaci.
Nationally, 38 percent of women aged 15-49 reported experiencing violence since age 15, according to the government’s most recent demographic health survey.
Thirty-six percent of the women who were, or had been, married reported violence - physical, sexual, or emotional - by a husband or partner.
Widespread rape and sexual assault of women and children went largely unpunished during the military occupation.
Domestic violence has technically been a crime since 2009 under the penal code, but it was not until 2010 that a law clearly defined the crime and mandated victim support services.
“A lot of work has been done to train police on the law,” Cormaci added. “The problem is that many people still turn to traditional justice as a means of settling their disputes. So you have [a] good domestic violence law there, but implementation is much harder.”
*This is an edited version of the original posting from 15 February