East Timor Social Condition Facts

Social conditions

Between 30 percent and 40 percent of East Timor’s population lives in poverty. The information varies depending on the source. In rural areas, poverty is more widespread than in cities, and most severe are conditions in the central parts of the country and furthest to the west.

Average life expectancy is relatively low and child mortality is high, although it has decreased due to vaccination programs. Malnutrition is common, especially among children. Common causes of death are malaria, infections and diarrhea. However, the incidence of tuberculosis and malaria has declined significantly in recent years thanks to the government’s efforts in basic health care. New health clinics have been built around the country. Treatment at the state clinics is free of charge.

Training programs for healthcare professionals have been started, but the shortage of doctors and nurses is great. In 1999, 130 of East Timor’s 160 doctors fled. Many of them had previously moved in from other parts of Indonesia and returned home when the violence erupted. In 2005, Cuban doctors began coming to East Timor to help with the care and East Timorese medical students were sent to Cuba.

East Timor Social Condition Facts

A social insurance system is under construction. War veterans, widows with children, poor elderly (over 60 years) and people with disabilities receive support from the state.

The jobs created during the reconstruction in 2000–2002 attracted large numbers of people to the cities, where aid organizations and UN administration existed. In line with the UN’s gradual withdrawal, increased unemployment and underemployment led to growing crime in cities. A gang culture has emerged, and the serious violence and organized crime is extensive.

Social status in society is determined by educational level, but also by family affiliation and what a person did during the resistance struggle against the Indonesian occupation 1975-1999. It is a high status to have been a veteran of the resistance movement on site in East Timor. Having Portuguese roots means high status. In rural areas, village life is socially stratified with families of different status, although it is not always visible on the surface.

In rural areas, most of them live in large families, but many families have split because of previously armed conflicts and escape. It is not uncommon for the father of a family to be missing. The family members share the responsibility for raising the children and the well-being of the elderly. Godparents play a very important role in supporting the parents. Baptism is an important family ceremony, as is the wedding. Both usually take place according to Catholic customs in the Church.

Society is male-dominated and gender roles are often traditional. Husbands are usually family caregivers and decision makers, while the spouse is caring for home and children. The Constitution stipulates that discrimination on grounds of sex is prohibited. Women and men should be equal before the law, but in divorce, the woman is not entitled to take part in the joint estate. Domestic violence is reported to be common.

Since 2011, every third name on the political parties’ lists must be women. It has had a positive effect on gender equality in politics, but the men still dominate.


Infant Mortality: 39 per 1000 births (2018)

Proportion of population with access to clean water: 70.2 percent (2015)

Proportion of the population having access to toilets: 53.5 percent (2017)

Public expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP: 3.1 percent (2015)

Public expenditure on health care per person: US $ 80 (2016)

Proportion of women in parliament: 34 percent (2018)



Guerrilla movement dissolves

The East Timorese government formally dissolves the guerrilla movement Falintil (East Timor’s Armed Liberation Force), which fought against the Indonesian occupation army for over two decades.


East Timor wants to join Asean

East Timor applies for membership in the Southeast Asian cooperation organization Asean. The application is supported by several countries, including Indonesia. Asean decides to further investigate East Timor’s conditions for membership.


Criticism from the UN

The East Timorese government is being criticized by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for not doing enough to fight poverty and investigating those suspected of war crimes. In a draft report, the UN body also criticizes the government for high youth unemployment. The government in Dili dismisses the criticism that the UNDP in its assessment did not take into account how sensitive the relationship between East Timor and the former occupation power of Indonesia is (see Foreign Policy and Defense). The country’s security minister accuses the UN body of having made a partial, incorrect and culturally ignorant draft.