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Making them Indonesians- child transfers out of East Timor

Monash University Publishing

2012, RRP $34.95

Reviewed by Selina Li Duke.

"MY decision to write about child transfer out of East Timor was influenced by my interest in the 'stolen generation' of Australian Aboriginal children," says Helene Van Klinken, formerly of Indooroopilly and currently a researcher in Holland.

Her book explores the little-known fact that during the Indonesian occupation (1975-1999), approximately 4,000 East Timorese children were taken to Indonesia.

The episode has parallels with the experience of colonised groups in many countries including Australia, as is detailed in a fascinating section entitled "Child transfer in other countries".

In 2003, Dr Van Klinken was a volunteer at the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor.

There she learned about the systemic nature of the "transfer" of children, and decided to investigate further.

The circumstances in which the transfer took place were many and varied.

Some children, orphaned or separated from their families in the chaos of invasion, were abducted by soldiers for adoption in Indonesia.

Some were selected by the authorities to be brought up and educated in the Indonesian way, so that they would be the next generation of pro-integrationists.

Some parents were coerced or tricked into giving their children away, while others agreed to the transfer. Many children were traumatised by the experience, some suffered discrimination, alienation and even abuse; yet some were grateful for the new life and opportunities in their adoptive land.

The book, with its excellent mix of analysis and first-person stories, gives a voice to some of the most powerless in a conflict, as well as valuable insights into the history and politics of two of our closest neighbours.

Dr Van Klinken is the co-founder of a website www.istoriaku.org to help those who are still searching for missing family members.