During the 30-year occupation of East Timor, thousands of children were taken to Indonesia. It is evaluated that approximately 4000 children, in a period between 1975 and 1999, were taken from their family by Indonesian military or religious organizations.

One of these children was Isabelina Pinato who was taken from her family by an Indonesian Soldier when she was only five years old. Luckily, Isabelina managed to find her family decades later, and now she has a life goal to find the ‘lost children’ and reunite them with their families.

The Day When She Was Stolen

Isabelina vividly remembers the day she was stolen. One Sunday after church an Indonesian soldier visited her family in a village in Viqueque. The soldier threatened to kill them all if they refused to give him the girl. Apparently, the soldier didn’t have children and he wanted a daughter. Soon, Isabelina figured out that she was being taken away from home. Isabelina was one of the children which were abused. The soldier even pushed her under the water which made Isabelina faint. This event is the main reason why Isabelina dedicated her life to reunite the ‘lost families.’

Why take children?

A powerful idea hides behind taking the children, which was, at the time, a common belief and important ‘war tool’ for occupiers.

The military adopted the children in order to punish, humiliate, and weaken the enemy. On the other hand, bringing home a child was some kind of trophy for the soldier and a sign that the mission was accomplished. Upon arriving in the different country, some children were abused, while other were given education and appropriate home, but not all children were lucky.

Other stolen children

Other children had similar experiences to that of Isabelina. One of them is Alferdo Reinado, who was taken by the military when he was only eleven years old. He was taken back to Java in a wooden box which was completely shut so that he couldn’t escape. He went on to take part in an attempted coup in East Timor.

A successful boxer from Indonesia, Thomas Americano, was one of the children who was taken by an Indonesian soldier. For BBC News Dr. Klinken states that the children were sometimes stolen in order to make them military operatives. Instead of that, some children joined the resistance.