Experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child Praise Sao Tome and Principe for Measures to Increase School Attendance, Ask about Birth Certificates and Sexual Abuse of Schoolgirls
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the fifth and sixth combined periodic report of Sao Tome and Principe, with Committee Experts praising measures to increase school attendance and raising questions about birth certificates and sexual abuse of schoolgirls, including the practice of exchanging sex for grades.
One Committee Expert commended the abrogation of the law prohibiting pregnant girls from attending school, as well as the increase in school enrolment rates. Two serious problems remained, however: the lack of teachers and lack of infrastructure where children could study. What measures was Sao Tome and Principe taking to address these needs?
Suzanne Aho, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Sao Tome and Principe, asked about the percentage of registered births for which birth certificates were issued. It was reported that some birth certificates were incomplete, with just the mother’s first or last name and without the name of the father. What was the cost of a birth certificate? Was there a fine for late birth registration? How did women giving birth outside of a hospital register a child?
Another Expert addressed the practice of young girls exchanging sex for grades. What was the State party doing to address this sexual abuse of young girls? What measures were in place to raise awareness and combat attitudes that justified child marriage, teenage pregnancy, and domestic and gender-based violence?
Introducing the report, Maria Milagre, Minister of Women’s Rights of Sao Tome and Principe and head of the delegation, said the parent education plus programme was promoting positive parenting practices and combatting child abuse, neglect, abandonment and sexual assault. Birth registrations reached 98.6 per cent in 2019 and the Government was committed to achieving 100 per cent registration. In 2020, the Child Protection Department was established, which led a multisectoral team focusing on the protection of childhood and research into children’s struggles.
Infrastructure had been improved to expand children’s access to schools and day care, the delegation said. Schools had started to provide meals to reduce dropout rates and malnutrition. Communication was encouraged between schools and parents so the parents could have greater awareness of their children’s extra-curricular activities.
The delegation said that since 2009, the Government had been implementing a national strategy on birth registration in maternity wards, which had been successful. Maternity wards did not issue a birth certificate but a personal identity document. Since 2011, the personal identity document for children had been issued immediately. The difference between the number of registered births and birth certificates was due to parents lacking documents themselves. The central civil registration office was working to remedy the problem. The country would continue to work with relevant United Nations organizations to achieve a 100 per cent registration rate.
Addressing the phenomenon of young girls exchanging sex for grades, the delegation said the Government did not condone the practice and had spared no effort to end it. If a report was received of a teacher exchanging grades for sex, the teacher would be referred to the appropriate authorities. Further measures were adopted under the vulnerable families’ programme to support families to become more self-sufficient. This would discourage teenage girls and children from seeking financial support from older men.
In closing remarks, Ms. Aho said there had been some areas in which Sao Tome and Principe had made progress. There were many challenges remaining to be addressed, however. The State party needed to revise legislation on child marriage, strengthen health care support for children, and introduce measures to protect girls against early pregnancy and sexual abuse and to promote girls’ education. The Committee called on the State party to continue to develop programmes in support of children in collaboration with international partners.
In her concluding remarks, Ms. Milagre thanked the Committee for the dialogue, which had provided the State with guidance in implementing the rights of children. There was room for improvement in terms of children’s access to health, education and sanitation, among other areas. Changes could not be ushered in overnight; development was conditioned by technical and financial capacity. The State called for international support in implementing Sao Tome and Principe’s policies and goals to promote the rights of children.
The delegation of Sao Tome and Principe consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Women’s Rights; the National Institute for the Promotion of Gender Equality and Equity; and the Human Rights Office.
The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Sao Tome and Principe at the end of its ninety-third session on 26 May. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 15 May at 3 p.m. to consider the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Finland (CRC/C/FIN/5-6).
The Committee has before it the fifth and sixth periodic report of Sao Tome and Principe (CRC/C/STP/5-6).
Presentation of Report
MARIA MILAGRE, Minister of Women’s Rights of Sao Tome and Principe and head of the delegation, said that since the ratification of the Convention in 1991, the country had made great strides with the support of its development partners. Sao Tome and Principe was committed to implementing all measures to protect the rights of the child. During the reporting period, the country had made significant progress in strengthening the policy and legal framework, health, education, social protection and other areas directly or indirectly related to children, despite significant setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Children participated in disseminating information on the national instruments on child rights through radio shows, the primary mode of communication in the country. Legislation that was brought in line with the Convention included the fundamental law of health, the Family Code, the guardianship law and the Penal Code. A children’s court had also been established.
Sao Tome and Principe had implemented awareness raising campaigns during the pandemic as well as a vaccination campaign for children aged five to 18 years old. Further, 210 primary school teachers had been trained to deliver comprehensive sexual education. The pandemic saw a transformation in education, with education being diffused through the radio and translated into sign language for television. Nutritional support was provided to children through the establishment of community gardens and canteens, which aimed to combat the chronic malnutrition present in the country. A draft law on supporting children with speech impediments through specialised classes was under examination.
The parent education plus programme was promoting positive parenting practices and combatting child abuse, neglect, abandonment and sexual assault. Birth registrations reached 98.6 per cent in 2019 and the Government was committed to achieving 100 per cent registration. In 2020, the Child Protection Department was established, which led a multisectoral team focusing on the protection of childhood and research into children’s struggles.
The prosecutor, the courts, the national police, the police judiciary and hospitals were required to monitor the institutionalisation of children following a decision of a prosecutor. Much was done to protect the physical and mental health of children, including awareness raising campaigns and trainings. The review of relevant legislation was underway to avoid the re-victimisation of children. The Government had also established the age of marriage at 18.
The National Commission on the Rights of the Child would be launched, in which representatives of the Government and civil society would be present. Sao Tome and Principe had ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
Even with such progress, the Government recognised that the universal implementation of human rights required more efforts, including more economic support. However, Sao Tome and Principe was confident that through cooperation with and commitment from development partners, all obstacles would be overcome.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert noted that the delegation had ratified the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, which was a positive development. However, on the official United Nations website, the country’s name was absent. Could the delegation provide the date of ratification? Budget monitoring was important for social protection, especially for children. Did the Government plan on implementing measures to monitor budgeting with inter-sectoral and inter-ministerial coordination? Could the delegation provide any information on regulatory frameworks for businesses? The Committee was concerned that business activities might impact child rights negatively. How would the State party ensure that business activities were in line with the Convention?
Another Committee Expert noted that under the family law, the minimum legal age for marriage was 18, but exceptions were made with parental consent for boys of 16 and girls of 14 to marry. Once girls were married, they were no longer able to continue studies, increasing the probability of adolescent pregnancy. Did the State party plan to abrogate all exceptions to child marriage? Further, rural girls were disproportionately affected by the phenomenon. Would the State take measures to end discrimination against children in rural areas and economically vulnerable families? How would their access to public services be ensured?
The Expert noted that children over the age of seven had to be heard in matters of adoption or divorce. Would the law be expanded to address all children capable of discernment in legal situations affecting them? The Children’s Parliament met regularly. What were some of its outcomes? How did it ensure that children with disabilities, children from poor backgrounds and rural children were included?
SUZANNE AHO, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Sao Tome and Principe, asked about the 98.6 per cent of children with registered births. What percentage of them had birth certificates? It was reported that some birth certificates were incomplete, with just the mother’s first or last name and without the name of the father. How did children obtain nationality? Were fathers important to the upbringing of their children?
What was the situation of children whose parents worked in plantations, such as cocoa plantations? What was the Government doing to support women who gave birth outside of hospitals to register their births? Could radio broadcasts also address birth registration? Would Sao Tome and Principe ratify the conventions on the status of stateless persons and on the reduction of statelessness?
It was reported that the media did not often talk about the rights of the child but did broadcast sexually explicit material. What did the State do to regulate the media?
Another Expert welcomed the law against domestic violence, the birth registration system and the children’s strategy. What steps had been taken to build upon the last set of recommendations that the Committee issued? A lack of data collection on violence and sexual abuse was concerning. What work was being done to address this? The measure on imprisonment of abusive fathers created more problems than it solved; had the State party taken any action to rectify this? Had the State banned all corporal punishment? What awareness raising campaigns existed in this regard? The practice of exchanging sex for grades was still not interpreted as sexual abuse of young girls. What was the State party doing to address this sexual abuse of young girls? What measures were in place to raise awareness and combat attitudes that justified child marriage, teenage pregnancy and domestic and gender-based violence?
Responses by the Delegation
MARIA MILAGRE, Minister of Women’s Rights of Sao Tome and Principe and head of the delegation, said that the delegation’s relative newness to their posts might pose problems in the discussion. She had only been appointed six months ago. That being said, the country had ratified the Optional Protocol on the sale of children on Republic Day, but had not yet filed the paperwork. The Government had implemented various projects to help the most vulnerable women in society with its own resources since 1990. Following support from the World Bank, two programmes were established: the Press Programme and the Vulnerable Families Programme, which had extended its coverage to more families who had suffered income loss. The State budget allocated assistance to elderly persons, which included hot meals and medical care.
Previously, the Director for Social Protection and the Minister of Labour covered social protection. However, a Women’s Ministry had been created under the current administration, and as women and girls fell under the category of social protection, there was overlap. The Government drew on the Framework Law on Special Education from 2021 to develop accompanying legislation for children with disabilities. The State party was in the final stages of drafting this legislation. Similar work was underway on legislation for persons with disabilities, which was currently before the Council of Ministers for adoption.
Addressing the phenomenon of young girls exchanging sex for grades, the delegation did not condone the practice and the Government had spared no effort to end it. If a report was received of a teacher exchanging grades for sex, the teacher would be referred to the appropriate authorities. Further measures were adopted under the vulnerable families’ programme to support families to become more self-sufficient. This would discourage teenage girls and children from seeking financial support from older men.
Regrettably, Sao Tome and Principe did not currently have shelters for victims of domestic violence. There had been cases wherein an abuser was able to pay bail and then return to the home of their abused child. The country therefore would prioritise the construction of shelters in the future to prevent re-victimisation. Trainings were also a priority for officials who received complaints of sexual abuse. The Government aimed to ensure victims of sexual abuse felt comfortable reporting it. Teenagers could sign up to the U-REPORT platform to access information. Youth interaction centres were being built in all regions, including the autonomous region of Principe. Children were able to take part in radio programmes, wherein they were able to offer their feedback and were listened to. The work of non-governmental organizations and the United Nations Children’s Fund was also instrumental in communities.
Since 2009, the Government had been implementing the national strategy on birth registration in maternity wards, which had been successful and was due for a revision, which normally occurred every five years. Maternity wards did not issue a birth certificate but a personal identity document. A birth registration law from 1967 had not been updated, but remained a good model. The mother, father or a third party could register a birth. Since 2011, the personal identity document for children had been issued immediately. The difference between the number of registered births and birth certificates was due to parents lacking documents themselves. The central civil registration office was remedying the problem through a strategy. The country would continue to work with the relevant United Nations organizations to achieve a 100 per cent registration rate.
A regulatory agency for the media was working intensively with civil society and psychologists to ensure the best possible content for children. Pedagogical advertisements encouraged children to go to bed immediately after the 8 p.m. news and before the oft-imported soap operas, in which there may be images of kissing or sex.
The Government had consolidated its efforts in social protection in as many sectors as possible. For example, in implementing the parental education programme, there was multisectoral involvement with Ministers of Justice and Education and members of civil society all participating. The Government would ensure a continued multisectoral approach in social protection. The vulnerable families programme, which would be extended, supported rural areas through cash transfers subject to conditions. For example, mothers with school-aged children would have to ensure their children remained in school to receive the transfers. Funding from partners such as the World Bank, the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund helped to improve the daily living conditions of the most vulnerable.
Infrastructure had been improved to expand children’s access to schools and day care. Schools had started to provide meals to reduce dropout rates and malnutrition. Identity cards could be issued in schools, and communication was encouraged between schools and parents so the parents could have greater awareness of their children’s extra-curricular activities.
Corporal punishment was prohibited and was actionable. The Constitution and Criminal Code stipulated that any act against the physical integrity of the child was punishable. The Family Code permitted parents to legally reprimand children as they saw fit, but this could not be interpreted as the legalisation of corporal punishment.
The Criminal Code stipulated punishments for all crimes, including violence against women and children. A protocol that addressed cases of abuse or abandonment of children was under review and would be adopted shortly. This would clarify which entities were responsible for each stage of the State’s response to such abuse.
The Government worked with civil society groups to address superstitions related to early pregnancy. Media campaigns were released on the radio and on television which outlined good practices and encouraged victims of sexual violence to report it. Challenges related to linguistic differences were dealt with through cooperation with civil society organizations, which helped to disseminate information in Cape Verdean Creole, for example.
The new code of 2018 allowed for marriage at the age of 18. A marriage was only valid if both parties were 18 years of age. A previous exception permitted minors to be allowed to marry, but the 2018 law no longer recognised this exception.
A protocol was in place to provide psychosocial and legal support to victims of child abuse. In some cases, the non-governmental organization “SOS Women” received victims first and aided them in bringing a complaint before the law. Support was provided twice a week following the filing of a complaint and then every few months following a legal proceeding.
Questions by Committee Experts
SUZANNE AHO, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Sao Tome and Principe, asked about the cost of a birth certificate. Was there a fine for a late birth registration? How did women giving birth outside of a hospital register a child? What was the situation of women giving birth in rural areas? What percentage of births were both registered and certified with the issuance of birth certificates?
Another Committee Expert asked about youth justice. When a child who was below the age of criminal responsibility was accused of a crime, what was the procedure? Could the child be detained?
One Expert noted that criminal legislation prohibited violence and offending the physical integrity of all persons, including children. The right of parents to moderate chastisement seemed to create a grey area. Were cases of parental abuse brought before justice?
A Committee Expert thanked the delegation for their response on the sex for grades practice and recalled that it was an issue of sexual abuse by those in power over young girls. What was the justice system doing to address this phenomenon specifically? Were there examples of perpetrators being brought to justice?
Another Expert asked if the awareness campaign on positive parenting had produced positive results.
An Expert noted that a main reason for family separation in Sao Tome and Principe was a degradation of social structures and values causing children to no longer feel safe in their own families. What measures were being taken to strengthen family structures? Was there a policy on responsible parenting? If there was, how was it implemented? How many children were deprived of parental protection? Did the State party plan to enact a study to understand and combat abandonment and institutionalisation of children?
The Expert asked if cash transfers were enough to remove families from vulnerable situations? What norms and standards of care were implemented to protect all children from violence and exploitation? How did adoption take place in the county? Was it full or partial adoption? What was the State party’s position on the Hague Convention on the protection of children and on cooperation on international adoption? Would there be efforts to bring the country’s legislation in line with the Hague Convention? What measures were in place to combat trafficking of children?
Another Committee Expert noted that Sao Tome and Principe acknowledged the need for urgent action for children with disabilities, which was commendable. Where did the main problems lie? What type of support was provided to families so that children with disabilities could continue to live in the family environment?
The Expert commended the abrogation of the law prohibiting pregnant girls from attending school, as well as the increase in school enrolment rates. Two serious problems remained, however: the lack of teachers and lack of infrastructure where children could study. What measures was the Sao Tome and Principe taking to address these needs? The disparity between school enrolment and school completion was alarming, particularly for children with disabilities, girls and children from low-income families. Could the delegation address this? Further, the phenomenon of girls dropping out of school because of pregnancy was of concern. What work was being done to address this? Leisure was also important. What was the State doing to provide children with play and leisure?
SUZANNE AHO, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Sao Tome and Principe, said that maternal, neonatal and child death rates were concerning. Had studies been undertaken to address these phenomena? How would the Government address the lack of medical staff in remote areas to ensure that women could give birth in good conditions? Why was there a high death rate for children under five? Were they malnourished or anaemic? Why was there a discrepancy in vaccination rates?
Ms. Aho noted significant progress in reducing mother to child transmission of HIV. Was HIV education available to young people? Why were there so many early pregnancies amongst poor families and illiterate families. Progress had slowed on a recent and successful breastfeeding campaign. Could the delegation address this? What was the Government doing to address drug and alcohol use near schools? What information was available on how children’s mental health was cared for and what specialists were available? As floods and droughts were issues in Sao Tome and Principe, were children informed about climate change?
Another Committee Expert said that the delegation had indicated that there were no identified cases of refugees and asylum seekers. Did the State plan to develop policies for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers? Did the State party require technical assistance in this regard? What was the status of children in street situations? Although no data was available, numbers were rising, according to the report. A study conducted during the COVID pandemic with the United Nations Children’s Fund on the issue would be a good place to start.
The Expert asked if internment in an education centre was offered as an alternative to institutionalisation. How was this different from detention? What more information was available on these education centres? Could a third party report suspicion of trafficking to the police? Were there centres where victims of trafficking could access help?
SUZANNE AHO, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Sao Tome and Principe, further noted a discrepancy in access to sanitation between the rich and the poor. Open defecation was practiced which was detrimental to children’s health. Was a solid waste disposal system planned? What was the role of municipalities in such instances? Would latrines be available in rural areas?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said there was only one hospital in Sao Tome, but there were also small regional health centres that provided care to local communities. Approximately 99 per cent of the population had received all required vaccinations. There was no significant difference between the mortality rates for boys and girls, and neither the neonatal nor the maternal mortality rate was high. HIV tests were carried out in regular and neonatal check-ups, and HIV testing centres had been established; 1.5 per cent of the population was HIV positive, and the rate was lower for younger age groups.
The State was making efforts to prevent early pregnancy, but these had not been effective, with a rise in early pregnancy occurring in regional areas such as Principe. The Government had established a project encouraging pregnant teenagers to remain in school until they gave birth. The Women’s Ministry was developing a strategy to provide teenage girls with family planning education.
The baby-friendly hospital initiative provided basic training to maternity ward nurses. This initiative was small-scale and had yet to have an impact on increasing breastfeeding rates. Breastfeeding rates had dropped because of an increase in the number of women returning to work shortly after giving birth, and myths about breastmilk lacking nutrients.
There was little serious malnutrition in Sao Tome and Principe, but there were cases of underweight children in vulnerable communities such as fishing communities, which did not grow their own food. Children in these communities did not have a balanced diet. The Government provided support to such children. There was now a high level of obesity amongst the population that the Government was addressing.
There was a waste issue in cities. The Government did not have a policy on waste management. Financing was needed to establish a waste collection system. There were districts and communities that practiced open defecation. To address this issue, there were projects to build latrines and septic tanks underway.
The Government believed that it was important to ratify the two conventions on statelessness. Before ratification, however, it needed to develop mechanisms to support stateless children. The State currently had no way of tracking stateless children. The State party did not deny children’s right to a nationality. Persons born to Sao Tome and Principe citizens overseas could contact State authorities to obtain nationality. Support was provided to victims of trafficking in cooperation with Interpol and Afripol.
The practice of exchanging grades for sex constituted sexual exploitation of minors, which was prohibited under the Criminal Code. Legal support and psychological counselling were provided to victims. Training was provided to members of the judiciary so that they could better respond to this issue. International support was also provided to strengthen protections of children from sexual exploitation.
The sale of alcoholic beverages was not permitted close to schools, and children under 18 were not allowed to enter places where alcohol was sold. Activities had been undertaken in collaboration with civil society organizations to raise the awareness of young people about the consequences of alcohol consumption. A law prohibited the production, sale and consumption of cannabis. The State party had engaged in a study of cannabis for medicinal purposes, and was developing its policy on medicinal cannabis in cooperation with international partners.
The positive parenting programme supported at-risk families. Under the programme, seminars were held for families to increase the abilities of parents and to prevent abuse. Psychosocial support was provided to children who were victims of abuse. Awareness raising on positive parenting was conducted through the media. Cash transfers had been provided to strengthen the capacity of parents and carers. An interim assessment of the programme found that birth registration, access to health and school attendance had increased through support measures. Around 90 per cent of social protection officers had received training on promoting positive parenting. There had been sharp drops in alcohol consumption among beneficiaries. Beneficiaries were also made aware of mechanisms for lodging complaints regarding violence.
Support was provided to families to ensure children with disabilities could live at home. An inclusion policy had been established to ensure children with disabilities had access to health and education on an equal footing with other children. Rehabilitation and support services, including physiotherapy and counselling, were provided to children with disabilities through non-governmental organizations. The State included children with disabilities in designing policies that affected them.
There had been great progress in access to education, but there was a disparity between boys and girls and between children from vulnerable families and other children. There were also similar disparities in graduation rates. The Government was encouraging participation in education through awareness-raising campaigns. The Government was also promoting leisure and recreational activities in school curricula. It had invested in building playgrounds in schools and urban areas, and had an awareness-raising campaign in place on the importance of play.
Health centre and civil registry data and monitoring reports provided the State with a partial picture of the situation of homeless children. In 2020, the State had conducted a survey of street children. This found that many older children on the streets took care of younger children. Certain children had been abandoned by their parents but were cared for by their siblings. Children on the streets were often victims of parental abuse.
The budget for social protection, health and education needed to be increased. This was under discussion. During the budgeting period, a survey was conducted to ensure public participation in the budgeting process. The private sector needed be strengthened to achieve sustainable development and improve children’s rights. The construction of many schools and creches was financed by private sector companies, and oil companies provided subsidies for students’ university fees.
Sao Tome and Principe had in recent years developed awareness campaigns on climate change. The Environment Service gave talks for children in schools to make them aware of the impacts of climate change, how to protect infrastructure and the natural environment, and how to respond to floods and natural disasters. The State party planned to produce 50 per cent of electrical energy from renewable resources within the next decade.
The national police, the judicial police and the prosecution service received complaints of abuse or trafficking of children. The police service operated refuges for vulnerable children.
Corporal punishment was prohibited and punished by law. The Family Code allowed parents to adequately chastise children for transgressions, but this did not allow for corporal punishment. Causing physical harm to or neglecting a child could lead to a prison sentence of up to four years. Teachers who practiced corporal punishment were punished.
It was free to register a birth up to one year of age, after which time registration cost between six and 12 euros. Late birth registrations could be carried out after age 14 through a special procedure. The Government was considering a measure to subsidise fees for vulnerable parents.
Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts
SUZANNE AHO, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Sao Tome and Principe, asked about measures to address difficulties with staffing in hospitals. What measures were in place to improve infrastructure in schools? Why did children’s birth certificates not have all the necessary information? What measures were in place to care for women with obstetric fistula? What was the situation regarding family planning services? What strategies had been developed to tackle child marriage? Was the State taking measures to make menstrual hygiene kits available to schoolgirls free of charge, and were gender separated bathroom facilities made available in schools? What was the situation regarding open air defecation? The State had previously been described as having one of the highest levels of open-air defecation in Africa.
Another Committee Expert expressed concerns regarding the low enrolment rate of girls in school. What was being done to promote girls’ enrolment?
One Committee Expert asked how the State was working to reduce gender disparities. Girls were typically confined to domestic work and schools appeared to reinforce this stereotype. Corporal punishment needed to be eliminated in all environments. The Expert called on the State to reconsider the legislation allowing for “adequate chastisement of children” by parents.
A Committee Expert expressed concern about the negative impacts of business activities on children, which forced some children to live on the streets. Did the State plan to conduct a study on the impact of business activities on children’s rights? Were welfare centres that housed child victims of abuse closed detention centres?
One Committee Expert said that the Hague Convention should be ratified before establishing a structure for dealing with international adoption. What structure dealing with such adoptions was in place? What measures were in place to improve teenagers’ access to reproductive health services?
Another Committee Expert said that in 2014, the breastfeeding rate was 72 per cent, but this had fallen to 63 per cent in 2020. What was the reason for the drop? Excessive alcohol consumption and consumption by minors was a serious issue in Sao Tome and Principe. What measures were in place to address this issue?
A Committee Expert said the education policy charter of 2018 to 2022 had unrealistic targets. What steps had been taken to implement these policies, and had any reviews of implementation been carried out? There was reportedly a lack of respect of the teaching profession and poor salaries for teachers, leading to poor quality education. How was the Government addressing this?
One Committee Expert asked about the competencies of the Women’s Ministry in terms of the implementation of children’s rights. Was the Observatory for Child Rights independent of the Government? Was civil society part of the child protection system? There was no national policy on children deprived of parental care. How many such children were in institutional care? What strategies to protect these children and promote deinstitutionalisation were in place, and which organizations provided support? How did the State measure violence in the household? What strategies were being used to inform children of their rights regarding domestic abuse?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said many health care professionals had left Sao Tome and Principe seeking a better income. The State was promoting the reactivation of retired health care workers. Family planning was available, but there was stigmatisation around it. Awareness work needed to be done to promote family planning. Segregated bathrooms were provided to girls in schools, and the Government planned to improve school bathroom facilities. A resolution had been passed to reduce the cost of menstrual hygiene products to make these items affordable for everyone. The Government was promoting girls’ education and tackling gender stereotypes.
Water in rural areas was often untreated. The Government was making efforts to increase access to treated water. There were no cases of child deaths caused by pollution.
Alcohol consumption was a serious issue that the Government was addressing. The Government was increasing taxes on imported alcoholic drinks. A study was underway on alcohol consumption in schools.
The Government had implemented maternity hospital birth registers to improve access to birth registration. Legislation allowed for mothers to register their children alone, which led to fathers’ names being left off birth certificates. Fathers could apply to have their names added to birth certificates with the civil registry.
According to 2019 data, 13 per cent of children did not live with their biological parents. There were three temporary children’s homes that were not run by the State. The State provided financial support for these homes. The State’s “education centres” were not detention centres. Children in conflict with the law were not held criminally liable. Education centres were centres where children who had been abandoned were placed.
The Education Ministry was adjusting policies for the implementation of the education charter. The Government sought to improve school infrastructure and recruit more teachers. Teachers received public servant wages.
Sao Tome and Principe could not provide refugees with decent living conditions. This was why it currently did not intend to ratify protocols dealing with refugees.
SUZANNE AHO, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for Sao Tome and Principe, said the dialogue with the smallest State in Africa had been very fruitful. There had been some areas in which the State had made progress. There were many challenges remaining to be addressed, however. Sao Tome and Principe needed to revise legislation on child marriage, strengthen health care support for children, and introduce measures to protect girls against early pregnancy and sexual abuse and to promote girls’ education. The Committee called on the State party to continue to develop programmes in support of children in collaboration with international partners.
MARIA MILAGRE, Minister of Women’s Rights of Sao Tome and Principe and head of the delegation, thanked the Committee for the dialogue, which had provided the State with guidance in implementing the rights of children. There was room for improvement in terms of children’s access to health, education and sanitation, among others. There was a need to build shelters for victims for domestic violence. Changes could not be ushered in overnight; development was conditioned by technical and financial capacity. The State called for international support in implementing Sao Tome and Principe’s policies and goals to promote the rights of children.
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