Making Them Indonesians: Child Transfers Out of East Timor
1 Jan 2012
Monash Asia Institute
Helene van Klinken
One Indonesian soldier was particularly nice to me. He gave me pretty clothes and sweets and used to take me for walks and to his office. Then one Sunday, it was just after my first communion, I was coming out of church with other children when soldiers took me and put me into a vehicle. My uncle tried to stop them. I remember screaming and being very frightened. They took me to the nearby airfield and then in a helicopter. As we took off I threw the handkerchief my uncle had given me out of the helicopter. In Dili I stayed for some time in the soldiers barracks in Taibessi where there were East Timorese women, one of whom cared for me. On one occasion I tried to run away and find my way back home. After some time the soldier was finished in Ainaro; he collected me from the barracks and took me back to Indonesia by plane. Biliki, in Jakarta 2003, recalling her last recollections of her life in East Timor as a seven-year-old child in 1978. Biliki was one of approximately 4,000 dependent East Timorese children who were transferred to Indonesia during the occupation of East Timor by Indonesia between 1975 and 1999. Many, like Biliki, were taken by soldiers to be adopted, others were sent to institutions in Indonesia by government and religious organisations. This book is the first detailed account of the history of the transfer of these children to Indonesia. It is not a simple story, nor can it be depicted in black and white terms. Some children were taken against their wishes, while others were rescued from certain death; some parents were coerced and deceived into giving their children away, while others agreed to the transfer of their children because of the critical situation due to the war; some children were treated like family members by those who took them, while other children had to work for their adoptive families, sometimes in slave-like conditions. The motivation of those who transferred the children ranged from genuine compassion and good intentions to the less benevolent manipulation and use of vulnerable children for economic, political and ideological ends. These child transfers are a window on the relationship between Indonesia and East Timor during this period. It had many of the marks of a colonial relationship, and like all such relationships was full of ambiguities and contradictions. A unique factor is that they were conducted by non-Europeans, indeed by people who belonged to a former colonised territory. And like other colonisers who separated children from their families, such as the Australian authorities who removed Aboriginal children to assimilate them into the dominant, white, Christian society, the underlying aim of the Indonesians was to integrate the East Timorese children and make them Indonesians.