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TIMOR LESTE: Future Lies in the Young Nation's Hands
By Matt Crook

DILI - Timor-Leste is a young nation in every sense. Nine years after achieving formal independence in 2002, ending 24 years of savage occupation by the Indonesian army, half of its population of 1.1 million is under the age of 18. Many of its children lost friends and relatives during the Indonesian era and its bloody aftermath in 1999, one that saw the near-total destruction of the country's infrastructure at the hands of Indonesian soldiers and local militia groups.

These young people have grown up in a nation still trying to see and shape its identity away from the struggle for independence. In 2006, a split in the armed forces quickly escalated to full-on conflict in Dili, the nation's capital, forcing more than 150,000 from their homes and into camps for internationally displaced persons.

Health and education indicators point to significant weaknesses in the state's framework, but there have been signs of improvement and the government says there has been a nine percent decrease in poverty with the strengthening of healthcare and education institutions. Central to progress in the coming years will be further reductions in the fertility rate and the maternal and child mortality rates, as well increased access to primary and secondary schooling. Efforts thus far have got the country on the path to eradicating poverty, achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality rates and improving maternal health, but there is still a long way to go.