Trafficking in Persons Report 2011


Timor-Leste is a destination country for women from Indonesia and China subjected to forced prostitution. In addition, men and boys from Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand are subjected to forced labor, including on fishing boats operating in Timorese waters; they occasionally escape their traffickers and swim ashore to seek refuge in Timor-Leste. The placement of children in bonded labor by family members in order to pay off family debts was also a problem. Timor-Leste may also be a source country for women or girls sent to Singapore and elsewhere in Southeast Asia for forced domestic work. Some migrant women recruited for work in Dili report being locked up upon arrival, and forced by brothel ‘bosses’ and clients to use drugs or alcohol while providing sexual services. Some women kept in brothels were allowed to leave the brothel only if they paid 20 dollars an hour. Traffickers regularly retained the passports of victims, and reportedly rotate sex trafficking victims in and out of the country every few months. Male victims from Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand who were forced to labor on fishing boats with little space, no medical care, and poor food, sometimes escaped and swam ashore while in Timorese waters to flee the fishing boats. Traffickers used debt bondage through repayment of fees and loans acquired during their recruitment and/or transport to Timorese waters to achieve consent of some of the men laboring on the fishing vessels. Traffickers subjected victims to threats, beatings, chronic sleep deprivation, insufficient food and fresh water, and total restrictions on freedom of movement - victims on fishing vessels rarely or never went ashore during their time on board. Transnational traffickers may be members of Indonesian or Chinese organized crime syndicates, and the trafficking offenders who use male victims on fishing boats are reportedly Thai nationals.

The Government of Timor-Leste does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government increased efforts to raise public awareness of human trafficking. There was, however, a decrease in the number of trafficking cases the government investigated and the number of victims referred to international organizations and NGOs for assistance, and victim identification efforts were inadequate. Authorities continued to refer identified trafficking victims to protection services provided by NGOs and international organizations, as a serious lack of resources and personnel continued to limit the Timorese government’s ability to provide services directly. The government did not investigate reports of trafficking-related complicity, including lower-level police and immigrations officials accepting bribes from traffickers.

Recommendations for Timor-Leste: Enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenders; make efforts to investigate and prosecute officials complicit in human trafficking; implement procedures to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations; train front-line law enforcement officers on proper victim identification procedures and referral mechanisms, including recognition of trafficking victims who may have possession of their own travel documents; increase the quality and types of assistance to trafficking victims; finish developing and institute formal national procedures for referring victims to service providers; and develop and conduct anti-trafficking information and education campaigns.


The Government of Timor-Leste did not make discernible progress in anti-trafficking prosecution efforts during the reporting period. The government reported investigating only two cases of trafficking during the year, both of which are ongoing, but did not prosecute or convict any trafficking offenders. During the previous reporting period, the government reported arresting nine suspected trafficking offenders; there were no reported efforts to prosecute these suspected offenders during the last year. The revised Penal Code defines and punishes the crime of trafficking and provides protection to witnesses and victims. Articles 163, 164, and 165 of the Penal Code specifically prohibit trafficking, and Articles 162 and 166 prohibit slavery and the sale of persons. The articles prescribe sufficiently stringent penalties ranging from four to 25 years’ imprisonment, which are commensurate with punishments prescribed under law for other serious crimes, such as rape. Specific provisions prohibit trafficking offenses committed against a “particularly vulnerable” person or a minor, which it defines as a person under 17 years of age. During the year, the government cooperated with an international organization in the planning and implementation of anti-trafficking training provided to law enforcement and immigration officers with the funding support of foreign donors. The government did not report any efforts to investigate suspected trafficking complicity of public officials, despite some reports that immigration officials allegedly accept bribes to facilitate the illegal entry of Chinese victims into the country. There were also reports that some police officers in Dili accepted bribes to allow brothels – where potential trafficking victims may be identified – to continue operating. Some international and local NGOs alleged that some lower-level members of the police frequent these establishments. Although two brothels were shut down during the year, the government did not report any investigations to explore reports of police bribes or involvement in brothel-based
sex trafficking.


During the past year, the government made limited efforts to identify and assist trafficking victims, but these efforts were inadequate. The number of suspected and confirmed trafficking cases referred by the government to NGOs and foreign embassies for victim assistance significantly decreased to just three confirmed victims in the last year. Authorities identified these three trafficking victims as a Timorese girl in domestic servitude, a Burmese boy in forced labor on a fishing boat, and a Chinese child in forced prostitution. An international organization reported assisting an additional six male victims of forced labor on board fishing vessels during the year; the government did not provide these victims with assistance. In operations conducted during the year by the Timor-Leste National Police and the UN Police and reported as anti-trafficking efforts, authorities apprehended 59 Chinese and Indonesian foreign nationals for prostitution, immigration violations and related activities. During these raids, police identified one trafficking victim among this group and arrested two potential traffickers who remain in detention on trafficking charges while investigations are ongoing. The government referred three victims to a shelter run by IOM and local NGOs for services, including medical assistance, food, shelter, medical assistance, and return and repatriation services. The government did not provide any funding or in-kind assistance to the shelter during the reporting period, though it coordinated with service providers and foreign embassies in the repatriation of foreign victims. Victims were given limited access to legal assistance, mental health care, and translation services. Shelter services were reportedly sufficient to meet the current level of demand for victim shelter and assistance. Although the police and Migration Service were reportedly more active on conducting proactive trafficking investigations, efforts to identify victims of trafficking were inadequate; authorities relied on the possession of passports as the determining indicator of whether or not an individual was a trafficking victim. Potential victims who had possession of their own documents were not referred to IOM or NGOs for assistance; this may also have contributed to the decrease in the number of confirmed and potential trafficking cases referred to IOM and NGOs during the reporting period. It is possible that potential trafficking victims were deported by authorities during the reporting period for immigration violations, due to poor procedures to identify trafficking victims. The government did not provide temporary or extended work visas to trafficking victims during this review period. The government sometimes provided victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.


The Government of Timor-Leste improved efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. Using newly acquired patrol boats, the government began patrolling its territorial waters to combat criminality, including forced labor on fishing vessels, though these efforts did not result in the identification of any trafficking cases during the reporting period. The government provided material support for two music concerts sponsored by MTV to raise public awareness on human trafficking. Subsequently, the government repeatedly broadcast a video compilation of the public awareness campaign and concert on state television station throughout the country. Government radio continued to broadcast a nation-wide weekly radio program on issues related to trafficking. The President of the Republic spoke out on anti-trafficking issues and posters of him delivering this message were posted throughout the country. The government’s Inter-Agency Trafficking Working Group drafted a national action plan on trafficking and held government, community, and civil society consultations, though the plan has yet to be finalized. Authorities took no action to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the reporting period. The government’s Inter-Agency Trafficking Working Group drafted anti-trafficking legislation, which has been presented to parliament for approval.

Associated documents

  • Document ID 1244002 Related / Associated
  • Methodology associated with Trafficking in persons report 2011

    Trafficking in Persons Report 2011 (Periodical Report, English)