Preventing violence and child abuse through play in Timor-Leste

An animator at the Child Friendly Space, Nelson Soares, helps children draw on balloons. The activity helps children express themselves through art and build skills for self-expression. Photo: UNICEF Timor-Leste/Bbenevides
May 23, 2022

DILI, Timor-Leste - The sound of children singing echoes in the still mid-afternoon air in a suburb of Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili. The children, aged 2 to 14 years, clap, stomp their feet, dance and sing under the porch of a small house down a winding street in the Tasi Tolu (Three Beaches) area of the city. A month-old baby sleeps in a cloth hammock a few feet away from the children, oblivious to the sounds of stomping feet and singing. 

"My children look forward to the CFS activities. They sing, dance, are safe and happier.” - Angelina Menes, mother

The children are taking part in Spotlight Initiative-supported Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) activities under the Child Friendly Space (CFS) initiative organized by the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion (MSSI), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and non-governmental organization Ba Futuru (for the Future).

A year ago, the neighbourhood was hit by devastating floods, the worst Timor-Leste has experienced in several decades. There had also been some gang-related violence reported in the area and COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions meant children were unable to move outside of the communities to meet friends. Children were traumatized during these times, according to parents.

Photo: UNICEF Timor-Leste/Bbenevides

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, they could not go far, and we had to escape the floods too,” says Angelina Menes, who has children aged 5 and 9. “But now, my children look forward to the CFS activities. They sing, dance, are safe and happier.” 

Fifteen such CFS have been established across Dili Municipality. In total, over 1600 children between the ages of 2-14 years take part in these community-based activities. 

The CFS play an essential protective role for children in adverse circumstances, providing children a safe place to gather for play, self-expression, and learning, ensuring their mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. In Dili, the children participating in the community-based CFS perform daily psychosocial activities like breathing exercises, expressing themselves with art, dancing, singing and playing, learning how to cope with difficult situations, and strategies for feeling grateful and safe. 

Child Friendly Space participant, Indilina, leaps into the air as she skips rope during play-based activity at the CFS in Tasi Tolu, Dili. Play-based activity helps children improve concentration, self-esteem and confidence. UNICEF Timor-Leste/Bbenevides

The CFS are being supported by the Spotlight Initiative, a UN initiative which seeks to prevent and end all forms of gender-based violence. It has received generous support from the EU and is being implemented in Timor-Leste with the Secretary of State for Equality and Inclusion (SEII) and by five UN Agencies, in collaboration with a number of other implementing partners. 

Originally published by UNICEF Timor-Leste.

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