A draft family-planning policy before the Government in Dili would force unmarried women and girls to use only natural methods which many argue increase the risks of unwanted pregnancy, particularly among young and poorly educated women.
In a country where teenage pregnancy rates are already high, women’s groups are alarmed at the potential impact if the policy is adopted.
Teenage girls in East Timor have a one-in-four chance of giving birth by the time they are 19.
The devoutly Catholic country has one of the highest fertility rates in the world at 5.6 — meaning the average Timorese woman will have between five and six children.
And teenage pregnancy rates mean many children are born to a mother who herself is still an adolescent.
“About one out of five girls are married actually before the age of 18. They’re marrying young and 50 per cent of them already have a child by the time they’re 20,” said John Pile, who heads the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) in Dili.
“Frequently it’s pregnancy followed by marriage and then the child. And that seems to be much more the issue than marriage then pregnant and child.”
The policy would ban contraceptives for anyone but married couples.
Unmarried women and teenage girls would instead be directed to use the Billings method, where a woman uses her own monthly cycle to calculate which days are safe to have unprotected sex.
“The new family planning program will reduce the incidence of pregnancy and … reduce the risk of abortions,” the program states, citing God and the Catholic church in its recommendations.