From Plan International
Felicmina was married when she was 17 and fell pregnant for the first time soon after. 10 years later, she is now pregnant with her fourth child.
In the Aileu municipality of Timor-Leste, a mountainous area less than 50 km from the capital, community and family pressures play an important role in girls’ lives and often restrict them from making their own choices in life.
For Felicmina, getting married was the only acceptable option available to her. “In my community you cannot be with a man if you are not married,” she explains.
Not only are romantic relationships between young people restricted in many rural areas like Aileu, but information and services on sexual and reproductive health are largely inaccessible to unmarried people, making it hard for girls and young women to learn about their own bodies or how to prevent pregnancy.
“The first time I had sex was with my husband. I didn’t know anything about sex before, but since my husband asked me to do it, I agreed, even though I was very scared,” she says.
When Felicmina had her first child, it meant abandoning all future prospects, as it does for many other girls in Timor-Leste. Once married, young women are expected to start having children immediately and frequently – which often endangers their health. If they refuse, they run the risk of being labeled as ‘bad girls’ by community members.
Without having the opportunity to decide what is best for them, girls like Felicmina find themselves with little skills and a future decided by other people. This makes them vulnerable to poverty, violence and isolation.
Plan International is working with young mothers in Timor-Leste through our Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development programme. When the initiative started fouryears ago, Felicmina was invited to be part of the project. She is now a member of a farming group, who sell vegetables to the local supermarket which provides them with a regular income.
“Since I joined the young mothers’ farming group I feel better. I learn a lot and have more income,” says Felicmina. “I earn 30 to 40 $ per harvest and I use the money to send my children to school and buy them school material and uniforms. My children’s education is now my main priority.”
Plan International Timor-Leste’s Youth Empowerment Programme is funded by the Australian Government and the European Union.
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Article and photos from Plan International