You have eight children, because you want six.

This was the logic employed by many young women in the days of Timor-Leste’s independence nearly two decades ago. Family planning was a question of simple but tragic arithmetic: families had more children with the expectation that not all of them would survive.

Jacinta, a 37-year-old farmer from the semi-rural town of Gleno in the country’s coffee-rich Ermera municipality, has seven children. “Five still living,” she says. She wears the all-black outfit customary for women mourning the death of a close family member; a sister died several months ago. The black clothes would usually come off after a year, but for countless women in those first few years of independence, the outfits simply stayed on as deaths occurred in close succession.

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Sophie Raynor

Sophie Raynor is a freelance writer based in Dili, Timor-Leste, interested in gender, youth and politics in Southeast Asia. She is on Twitter @raynorsophie.