UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Timor - People

The Timorese people are collectively known as Maubere. While approximately one million people live in Timor-Leste, it is also one of the world’s most rapidly growing populations, with over sixty percent of the population under the age of 30 and a birth rate of 5.2. Timorese authorities are interested in expanding private sector economic activities to provide employment for new labor market entrants.

This young, rapidly growing population is heavily rural, poorly qualified educationally and professionally, and mostly living from subsistence activities whether in rural areas or urban areas, with the exception of Dili, the capital city where contractual and remunerated employment opportunities are concentrated, although this available employment still co-exists with a vast informal sector (commerce and supply of various services).

The mixed Malay and Pacific Islander culture of the Timorese people reflects the country’s location at the juncture of those two cultural areas. After centuries of Portuguese colonial rule, a substantial majority of the population identifies itself as Roman Catholic. Some of those who consider themselves Catholic practice a mixed form of religion that includes local animist customs.

There are twelve ethnic groups within the national territory, with differing idioms, of Austronesian and Papuan origin (nine Austronesian: Tétum, Mambai, Tokodede, Kemak, Galoli, Idate, Waimoa, Nauetii, Baikeno; and three Papuan: Bunak, Makasai, Fataluku). Approximately 50% of Timorese speak Portuguese, 55% speak Bahasa Indonesia, and 31% speak English, according to the 2010 census; the percentages are likely significantly lower among adults. Over 85% speak Tetum, the most common of the local languages; about 45% speak Tetum Prasa, the form of Tetum dominant in the Dili district.

According to the Population Census 2004, around 32 languages and dialects are spoken in Timor-Leste. The most spoken mother tongues are, in decreasing order, Tétum-Praça (18% of Timor's population), Mambai (17.7%), Makasai (12%), Kemak (6.9%), Bunak (6.8%), Tétum-Terik (6.2%), Tokodede (4.3%), Fataluku (3.9%), Baikenu (3.8%), Atoni (2.4%), Waimoa (2%) and the remaining languages and dialects, each of which had less than 2% of the Timorese population. This linguistic diversity is enshrined in the country's constitution, which designates Portuguese and Tetum as official languages and English and Bahasa Indonesia as working languages.

In territorial terms, with the exception of Tétum, which became the language of national unity and cohesion during the struggle for national liberation, the languages of Timor-Leste have a clearly demarcated territorial expression. In Oe-cusse, the principal form of oral expression is Baikenu. Close to the frontier, in Covalima Tétum predominates and, in Bobonaro, Kemak and Bunak are mixed. In Liquiça the population speak Tokodede and in Dili, Tétum. In the mountainous interior Mambai predominates, as it also does in the districts of Ainaro and Manufahi. In Manatuto, Galoli and Tétum predominate. In the districts of Baucau and Vqueque, Makasai, Waimoa and Midiki are mostly spoken. In the extreme East, the district of Lautém is dominated overall by Fataluku.

During the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste, Indonesian was made the official working language of the government and the language used in schools. English has become the preferred language of business. Changes in language use have created communication challenges between the government, businesses, the education system and the population.

Among the school-age and youngest generations, and educated young adult generations with a tendency towards exodus and emigration, the proportion of individuals with full linguistic ability is much higher than in the older populations, due, above all, to the high rate of illiteracy and early school leaving that predominates in these last groups, and their consequent lack of linguistic achievement.

In regard to the educational profile of the population, in average terms, the rate of illiteracy is high (47% of the whole population) and the level of schooling of the population is low (only 15% of the population aged 18 or over has gained a high school diploma). The generation gap means that a lower level of illiteracy and longer school education can be observed in the generations up to 34 years old. However, the rates of illiteracy are still high among the younger generations (35% in the 10-14 age group, 20% in the 15-19 age group, 26% in the 20-24 age group, 31% in the 25-29 age group), and there is still a high rate of early school leaving at all educational levels. The average proportion of those with diplomas is low, whether at the level of secondary education (15.4% of the population aged 18 years or over) or higher education (1.7% of the population aged 25 or over).

Long-standing tensions between persons from the eastern districts (Lorosa’e) and persons from the western districts (Loromonu) seemed to have eased, and observers reported no specific incidents during the year. Anger toward the Chinese minority increased, especially due to resentments over their perceived economic advantages. Some Chinese shopkeepers were harassed, beaten, or had their shops burned, and several communities called for stricter regulations on Chinese business.

The highest mortality rate, which accounts for nearly 60 percent of all deaths in Timor-Leste, is attributed to communicable disease such as respiratory infections, diarrhea and malaria. About 300,000 people do not have access to safe drinking water (nearly 1/3 of the population) and an estimated 700,000 people do not have access to adequate sanitation. As a result of this, diarrheal illnesses are very easily obtained, and affect much of the population. Many communities have no way of properly disposing of sewage other than river systems. Frequent flooding worsens these conditions considerably, and flooding usually leads to increased spread of bacterial diarrhea and typhoid fever. High rates of poor sanitation and inaccessibility to clean water contributes to the spread of highly infectious diseases, of which Timor-Leste is of very high risk. It is further estimated that nearly 80 percent of all children suffer from an intestinal parasitic infection in Timor-Leste.

The 2015 Global Hunger Index listed Timor-Leste (along with Burundi and Eritrea) as having the highest prevalence of stunting (low height for age), with more than 50 percent of children under age five suffering from stunting.

Economic, cultural, and religious considerations and distance (in rural areas) sometimes limited women’s reproductive rights. Unmarried women under age 20, for example, may be denied reproductive health services. Additionally, in many areas, service providers sometimes required a husband’s permission before providing reproductive health services. Healthcare was not readily available for complications associated with abortion due to overall lack of women’s healthcare and the criminalization of abortion. According to 2014 estimates from the UN Population Division, 26 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern form of contraception.

In terms of age structure, people with an age below 15 represent 43% of the population of Timor, and the rest of the age structure is made up of the ages between 15-19 years representing 10% of the population, giving 53% of Timor's population below the age of 20, in contrast to 41% of the population with ages between 20-60 years and only 6% aged 60 or more, of whom only 3.5% are 65 or over. Contributing factors to this extremely young demographic profile are high fertility rates (an average of 7 children per woman) and a low average life expectancy (55.5 years).

Timor-Leste must generate substantial labor-intensive activities to soak up a pool of unemployed that is poised to grow massively in the years ahead. Close to half the population is under the age of 15 and the birth rate is among the highest in the world. Unemployed youths have fueled Dili's street violence and unrest in the past, drawn to the city without the job creation needed to sustain them. Sectors such as coffee, processed foods, handicrafts and tourism offer potential for growth but even in optimistic scenarios the likelihood of substantial manufacturing activity is low. Government investment in badly-needed infrastructure projects offers the best opportunity to create the employment that is needed to keep Timor-Leste's coming generation gainfully occupied.

Over roughly half a century there will be dramatic growth in the population of Timor-Leste if effective mechanisms of demographic awareness are not adopted, with serious consequences for the socio-economic framework in the strategic plan of national development.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 29-09-2016 20:02:12 ZULU