Here are some frequently asked questions about the Stolen Children of Timor-Leste.

During the conflict period of 1975-1999, thousands of children were forcibly transferred from their families in the territory of East Timor to Indonesia. The practice of transferring children was carried out extensively by military organisations, as well as charitable and religious foundations in Indonesia, as a form of controlling sentiment and dominating Timorese people.
East Timorese children under 18 years of age who were brought to Indonesia by public officials, or with the knowledge of public officials, without the consent of their family or guardians during the 1975-1999 conflict in Timor-Leste.
The transfer of East Timorese children to Indonesia ranged from kidnapping by individual soldiers through to transfer by government-funded educational programs. These children were also brought by religious foundations, social institutions, and civilians. Many children brought to Indonesia were treated as property that could be forcibly moved, packed into boxes, and required to perform manual labor for the families where they lived.
According to the CAVR, “this general practice of taking children demonstrates the view that by controlling Timor-Leste, Indonesia had unlimited power over children ... Members of ABRI and others in power in Timor-Leste felt they had the right to take East Timorese children without permission from their parents."
Most of the children who were stolen were boys who were originally recruited as TBOs. After working as TBOs for a certain period, some of these children were put on boats that returned the unit to Indonesia. However, there were also girls and boys who were not TBOs on these boats.
Tenaga bantuan operasional.
Tenaga Bantuan Operasi = Operational Assistance Personnel
The use of children as TBOs endangered their lives, health, and prospects. Members of the Indonesian military actively involved children in the military and paramilitary, using them as TBOs and militia members. A work period that could last for several years damaged their chances of receiving an education. Many of them have physical injuries due to having to carry loads that exceeded their ability.
The truth commission report, CAVR, calculated that thousands of children were transferred between 1975-1999. Figures of 4,000 or 4,534 children are often quoted by media and civil society groups when discussing this phenomenon. However, these figures arose from information from UNHCR, whose mandate was only to record children who disappeared in 1999. Therefore, the number of children who have been displaced and have not returned is certain to be much higher.
Forced displacement changed the way of life of Timorese children. Many experienced persecution from those who took them. This situation robbed them of the opportunities they should have had, such as education, a childhood, a loving family, and cultural identity.
With the passing of time, these children became adults. Many have adapted to the culture, language and religion of the Indonesian territory where they live. Although they have a new name, they still remember their Timorese identity, and the remnants of their childhood memories: mountain views, village names, parents' names and lullabies.
East Timorese children were sent to several parts of Indonesia, sometimes alone and sometimes in groups. Some were sent to state or private orphanages, some to religious dormitories, and some were adopted by families as children or forced to work. However, there are several common patterns through which children tell stories about their experiences:
  1. Loss of cultural identity
  2. Persecution
  3. Loss of communication with their families
Reuniting Stolen Children with their families in Timor-Leste is both possible and beautiful, but requires significant support and funding, particularly from the Governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste.
We are working to bring about the recommendations of the two truth and reconciliation commissions, find the Stolen Children, and give them the opportunity to be reunited with their families. So far, 58 “children” have participated in reunion visits with their families in Timor-Leste. Among the 58, some were taken at the age of 5. They have had no contact with their families for 20-40 years.
This December we will bring together 9 more of those separated from their families in Timor-Leste. But the work is not over yet - there are many more children who have yet to be found and reconnected with their families. Join us in showing your support for separated Timorese children, and help us in our efforts to bring more families together.
AJAR has contributed to and promoted official cooperation between the Governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste on the issue of children who were forcibly separated. Since 2013, AJAR and the Working Group for Labarik Lakon have worked with civil society groups and the Indonesian and Timor-Leste Human Rights Commissions to track down children who were stolen and brought to Indonesia during the conflict from 1975-1999.
We focus on efforts to reunite Stolen Children with their families. So far, 58 “children” have participated in reunion visits with their families in Timor-Leste. Among the 58, some were taken at the age of 5. They have had no contact with their families for 20-40 years.
This December we will bring together 9 more of those separated from their families in Timor-Leste. There are still more children who are yet to be found and reconnected with their families. Our work is not over.
The right to a childhood, to know one’s parents, and the freedom to choose how to live was stolen from the East Timorese children. When they were forcibly taken from their families during the 1975-1999 conflict, access to these rights was blocked. Finding and reuniting stolen Timorese children with their families is only one way they can regain control of their lives. However, they cannot do this alone. Funding and support are urgently needed from the Indonesian and Timor-Leste Governments to support this process.
There are opportunities for the Indonesian and Timor-Leste Governments to establish a proper history for victims who are entitled to regain their freedom. We are constantly trying to find a solution to start this process.
We agreed to use “Labarik Lakon” which means “Lost Child” in Tetun (the Timorese language). Although we have also chosen to use the term “Stolen Children”, we recognise that there needs to be some flexibility for search and advocacy purposes in addressing victims.
The more "subtle" term can be used if it is based on agreed working principles. This includes, for example, children who were forcibly transferred, separated, and taken be other means, without denying the truth about the human rights violations that occurred and their context.
The Indonesia and Timor-Leste Commission for Truth and Friendship (KKP), which was established by the two Governments with a mandate to work from 2005 to 2008, made recommendations regarding separated children.
Since the CTF's report was formally submitted to both presidents in 2008, negotiations on implementing the recommendations have continued. In July 2009, Timor-Leste submitted a brief proposal to Indonesia to consider establishing a working group on the issue of missing persons, including separated children, but Indonesia was reluctant to follow up.
In October 2011, the Indonesian Government issued a Presidential Regulation for the implementation of the CTF's recommendations. However, over the years, there has been little progress in this area from the two Governments.
The Governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste must take concrete steps to facilitate these reunions, working closely with civil society groups that have strived to bring about this breakthrough.