COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD CONSIDERS REPORT OF SAO TOME AND PRÍNCIPE
17 September 2013
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today completed its consideration of the combined second to fourth periodic report of Sao Tomé and Príncipe on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Presenting the report, Edite Ramos da Costa Ten Jua, Minister of Justice, Public Administration and Parliamentary Affairs, said that Sao Tomé and Príncipe was a democratic country based on the rule of law and that the Government programme for the promotion and protection of the rights of the child concentrated on justice, health and education. Legislation was in place to protect children from sexual harassment and sexual abuse, to secure the right to birth registration through the National Strategy for Children’s Permanent Registration, and to shield children against exploitation, trafficking, and violence. The rate of enrolment in private education was over 97 per cent. Maternal mortality and malaria incidence in children under the age of five years had decreased.
During the interactive dialogue, the Committee said that Sao Tomé and Principe had made significant progress in many areas, especially legislation, education and primary healthcare. Experts spoke about the need to increase the health and education budget, potentially with revenues from oil production, and asked about allocation of social sector resources, particularly social care for vulnerable children. Child labour, discrimination against pregnant girls, alternative parenting methods to corporal punishment, the age of criminality and birth registration were also discussed.
In concluding remarks, Agnes Akosua Aidoo, Country Rapporteur for Sao Tomé and Principe, said that Sao Tomé and Principe had made significant achievements in the areas of health and education. Several structural and institutional challenges remained, while stigmatization and cultural constraints persisted. The Committee would make recommendations on preventing discrimination against pregnant girls and early pregnancies, improving the right of children to be heard, enhancing social protection and improving the juvenile justice system.
The Delegation of Sao Tomé and Principe included representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Public Administration and Parliamentary Affairs and the Institute of Drugs.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 17 September, when it will begin its consideration of the second periodic report of Kuwait (CRC/C/KWT/2).
The combined second to fourth periodic reports of Sao Tomé and Principe can be read here: CRC/C/STP/2-4.
Presentation of the Report
EDITE RAMOS DA COSTA TEN JUA, Minister of Justice, Public Administration and Parliamentary Affairs, began by recalling that according to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights children were entitled to special care and assistance. While the family was the foundation of society and the structure which by nature should create the conditions for the child’s harmonious development, nevertheless the State had its own share of responsibility in defining the framework within which that development would take place.
Sao Tomé and Principe, located in the Gulf of Guinea, was the second smallest country in Africa and consisted of two main islands and several small islets. Sao Tomé and Principe was a democratic country based on the rule of law, and had a coherent legal framework to guarantee pluralism, liberty of press, and freedom of expression. During the last ten years the country had experienced significant growth, with the Gross Domestic Product growing at a rate of 5.2 per cent, mainly thanks to external financial flows in anticipation of the potential exploitation of oil resources. The sectors which had benefited most from public investment during the period 2003 to 2010 were public administration (26.2 per cent), transport and telecommunications (18.1 per cent), health (13.3 per cent), and education (12 per cent).
The Government programme for the promotion and protection of the rights of the child was based on the following three pillars: justice, health and education. Children’s rights were protected not only by the Constitution but also by a number of other laws, such as the law for jurisdictional assistance to the minor, the family law, and the labour law. Child labour was a serious social issue which posed a threat to the child’s health, education, safety and dignity. Sao Tomé and Principe had adhered to several International Labour Organization conventions and had also taken other measures in collaboration with its international partners in order to tackle the problem of child labour.
Legislation was also in place to protect children from sexual harassment and sexual abuse, to secure the right to birth registration through the National Strategy for Children’s Permanent Registration, and to shield children against exploitation, trafficking, and violence. Data showed that 94.7 per cent of the 5,173 children born in 2012 had been registered. Education was regarded as a key area of development by Sao Tomé and Principe. The National Education Plan for the period 2002 to 2013 aimed to achieve the integration of children with special needs, whilst also consolidating gender equality in its educational system. A series of measures had been taken to ensure that universal access to basic education, regardless of gender or place of residence, was a reality in the country. The rate of primary education enrolment was high: 98 per cent among girls and 97 per cent among boys. The Government had also taken measures to ensure a low rate of school drop-outs. The nine-month basic literacy for adults programme initiated by the Government, had a success rate of 70 per cent.
In the area of health, maternal mortality had decreased, as had malaria incidence in children under the age of five years old. Sao Tomé and Principe was also taking steps to eradicate HIV/AIDS infection by 2015. All women were submitted to HIV tests, counselling centres for sexual and reproductive health had been established in schools, and several awareness-raising activities were being organized for young persons. A specific set of measures targeted teenage pregnancy, and pregnant women were given access to counselling, free clinical testing, medical and nutritional support, and access to free anti-retroviral treatment.
Questions by Experts
AGNES AKOSUA AIDOO, Country Rapporteur for Sao Tomé and Principe, said that Sao Tomé and Principe, a small multi-island country, had achieved significant progress in many areas affecting the rights and wellbeing of children, most notably in the areas of legislation, education, and health, especially primary healthcare and coverage of children under five years old. It was very positive to see that primary education had been made universal, compulsory, and free by law.
Nevertheless, there were several outstanding challenges. Most of those were structural and included the lack of skilled human resources, which was mainly due to limitations on secondary and higher education and the migration of qualified young persons, and the limited financial resources available to the Government, since Sao Tomé and Principe had been heavily dependent on external aid.
Ms. Aidoo wanted to know whether children had been involved in the preparation of the report through a consultative and participatory process, and asked how the views of children were reflected. Sao Tomé and Principe had signed several international and regional human rights instruments but had ratified very few of them. Why had key human rights instruments which provided additional protection for children still not been ratified, including the African Charter? What efforts were being undertaken in that respect?
Sao Tomé and Principe had informed the Committee that efforts were underway to transfer the coordination responsibility to an independent non-governmental organization. How could a non-governmental organization effectively coordinate Government actions for children across all relevant sectors and from national to regional and district levels? Would not that constitute an abdication of Government responsibility?
Moreover, said Ms. Aidoo, while health and education budgets had increased in recent years, they were still inadequate. What was Sao Tomé and Principe doing to change that situation? What percentage of resources was devoted to the social sector, especially the protection of children in vulnerable situations? Ms. Aidoo also asked what was preventing Sao Tomé and Principe from adopting clear policies and strategies to forbid discrimination against girls and children from poor families.
Regarding oil production, Ms. Aidoo asked if there were any specific laws and measures to ensure the protection of livelihoods of families and their children and to prevent the violation of children’s rights during oil exploitation and production? Ms. Aidoo asked whether some of the country’s oil revenues would be allocated to the implementation of children’s rights, given that 44 per cent of the population was less than 14 years old.
SARA DE JESUS OVIEDO FIERRO, Country Co-Rapporteur for Sao Tomé and Principe, said that a plan of action for the implementation of the Convention was needed, with an information system to provide clear statistical data for the plan of action. How had Sao Tomé and Principe implemented the Committee’s 2004 recommendations? Had Sao Tomé and Principe conducted specific research in recent years to bridge the gaps mentioned in the report, and if so had that research provided guidance for public policies?
No existing law appeared to refer to violence against children under the pretext of punishment, Ms. Fierro said, asking whether any law specifically and clearly prohibited corporal punishment in the family and schools.
Committee Experts then asked questions, including about birth registration, for which an Expert commended progress made but said a 100 per cent rate had still not been achieved, and asked whether Sao Tomé and Principe was considering ratifying international instruments related to problems stemming from statelessness as a means of further tackling the issue of birth registration. Was the existing penalty for late registration not an obstacle to achieving a 100 per cent birth registration rate?
The “best interests of the child” were frequently referred to in the State party’s report, noted an Expert, asking if there was a law, code of practice or other official document which clearly defined the best interests of the child.
An Expert asked why there was no independent monitoring body in Sao Tomé and Principe. Did children in Sao Tomé and Principe know about the Convention and its principles, and did school curricula contain mandatory modules on the rights of the child and human rights in general? He also asked whether a Portuguese version of the Convention was available to the general public.
Response by Delegation
Responding to questions the delegation said that Sao Tomé and Principe faced serious challenges, especially as 93 per cent of its budget depended on international aid. Children had not been directly consulted in the drafting of the report, but non-governmental organizations had been consulted and children had been represented through them.
It was true that Sao Tomé and Principe had not ratified certain international instruments, as pointed out by the Committee. The Government would consider ratifying some of those conventions. While the Government had full responsibility for the implementation of the Convention, it was felt that it would not be transparent to have the Government leading the monitoring process. That is why it was decided to have non-governmental organizations outside the Government monitor the work carried out by the Government. The idea was not to delegate the Government’s work to a non-governmental organization but, rather, to achieve a maximum of transparency in a country which was genuinely concerned about child-related issues. The Committee’s comments in that regard would be taken into account. The National Committee for Implementation would be re-established to act as a bridge between non-governmental organizations and the Government.
Concerning the use of oil revenues, a fund had been created for future generations. Oil revenues would go into that fund, although a debate was currently taking place about what would be the best way to use oil revenues. In addition to Sao Tomé and Principe’s Exclusive Economic Area there was a Joint Development Area, shared with other neighbouring countries such as Nigeria, which was expected to generate the bulk of Sao Tomé and Principe’s oil revenues.
A money-laundering law had been adopted by the Parliament to tackle corruption, which was still a problem in Sao Tomé and Principe, in compliance with the country’s international obligations. Piracy and terrorism were two further concerns tackled by the law on money-laundering. Legislation to ensure and enhance the accountability of political figures had also been adopted.
Sao Tomé and Principe had a national strategy for non-discrimination to tackle gender inequality and was also taking measures to strengthen the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, including children. There was no separate law for children with disabilities, but the issue was addressed in other laws. New legislation was currently being introduced to tackle issues related to adoption and to regulate the system of shelter families in which orphans were placed.
The availability of detailed statistical data relating to the situation of children was an area of weakness, so more work needed to be done by the National Statistics Agency in that regard. The Constitution guaranteed the children’s freedom of expression. The helpline available to victims of domestic violence was also available to children.
In Sao Tomé and Principe everyone was entirely free to follow the religious faith of their choice, a right which was also enshrined in the Constitution.
Answering questions about the age of marriage for girls, the delegation said that according to the law the minimum age was 18 years old for men and women. The relevant 1997 law could be amended and modernized so as better to reflect the modern world. Awareness-raising campaigns and education were being used to sensitize communities about the risks involved in early marriages.
Concerning birth registration, the delegation said that that was an area where major progress had been made since 2008. Creating an institutional framework for birth registration would help to achieve a 100 per cent rate. The first stage of registration was currently done manually in the maternity wards of hospitals, so a more sophisticated system could be established for the effective processing of data. Registration was also carried out outside the maternity ward, for example in municipal centres.
Questions by Experts
An Expert suggested that Sao Tomé and Principe should first establish a national strategy for the rights of the child, which would then guide successfully the Government’s action plan for the implementation of children’s rights. The plan could then be regularly evaluated to see whether progress was made.
Concerning adoption, an Expert asked whether there was a focal point within a Ministry or a specific governmental department which was responsible for adoption-related matters. Was it true that children born at the weekend had trouble being registered?
An Expert requested detailed information and statistics on child labour, which was a major problem in Sao Tomé and Principe. What measures did Sao Tomé and Principe take and in what ways did the Government work with non-governmental organizations to have a positive impact on weak family ties and family relations? What had been done to ensure that schools offered high-quality education and that access to education was given to children from all backgrounds?
Regarding teenage pregnancies, which were common in Sao Tomé and Principe, what did the State party do to improve teenagers’ confidential access to health services? The Committee had received information that there was no comprehensive adolescent sexual and reproductive health policy or strategy which focused, among other things, on the prevention of teenage pregnancies. Rather, Sao Tomé and Principe women appeared to access health services for the first time after giving birth. Also, what measures was Sao Tomé and Principe taking to prevent drug abuse, particularly among teenagers? Were there life skill programmes for adolescents?
Concerning child victims of crime, an Expert said that Sao Tomé and Principe should provide a clearer definition of child victims. What policies were there in place to deal with children who had been sexually exploited or used in child pornography? Were those children treated as victims or as offenders? An Expert noted that there did not seem to be a system for the rehabilitation of offenders under the age of 16 years old. Were children under the age of 16 years deemed to be below the age of criminal responsibility? Other than corrective facilities for children, were there any ways of diverting the children from the criminal system and achieving their rehabilitation in a different way?
Did any laws address harmful traditional practices, some of which were fatal, and were awareness-raising activities undertaken to tackle the problem? The penal code spoke of excessive physical violence but did not prohibit all forms of violence, psychological and physical, against children, said an Expert, who stressed that social awareness-raising was important. What did the State do to ensure that citizens had adequate access to effective complaint procedures and that domestic violence did not remain in the private sphere?
An Expert said that social protection for poor families was important. Adequate support should be offered to poor families or the extended family of children to enable them to look after them. Investing in social care, particularly in prevention and early intervention, would avoid having to place children in foster care.
Regarding child labour, an Expert asked for information on what constituted child labour in Sao Tomé and Principe and what kind of jobs children were used for? Did they help their parents out at home or did they work in plantations?
Were there enough social workers in the country to carry out the sensitization work on important matters to which the delegation had repeatedly referred? How was Sao Tomé and Principe going about changing social attitudes in relation to important issues such as domestic violence and child labour, and how much of the awareness-raising was directed to men and boys?
An Expert said that girls were married and left the family early on in life. Furthermore, pregnant girls were not admitted to school because incest was widespread in Sao Tomé and Principe. Establishing a confidential, easily accessible and recordable reporting system and counselling service would help to deal more effectively with children who had been victims of sexual exploitation or incest.
Regarding child or teenage pregnancies, an Expert asked how effective the free distribution of condoms to young persons was, and what role the church played in the prevention of early pregnancies, in a heavily Roman Catholic society. Concerning the issue of family planning and parental responsibility, how many children were abandoned after being born out of wedlock? What measures was Sao Tomé and Principe taking to encourage people to assume their responsibilities as parents?
Malnutrition had been identified as a problem, an Expert said. Only a small number of households had adequate access to safe water and sanitation, which was the cause of the high rate of health problems associated with unclean water. What was Sao Tomé and Principe doing to tackle the problem?
Response by Delegation
The delegation confirmed that there were no child courts in Sao Tomé and Principe but there were laws in place that clearly defined concepts such as “the best interests of the child”. Establishing specialized courts for child-related issues would certainly be a step forward.
The penalty for late birth registration was a way to encourage parents to register their children; otherwise the registration rate would fall significantly.
The penal code had provisions for sexual violence, corporal violence, sexual exploitation, and trafficking in persons with a specific mention of children, a delegate confirmed, although he said the Government was aware that there were still gaps in the legislation. It was working to fill those legislative gaps to provide for all types of situations, including emergency and unprecedented incidents.
Regarding abandoned children, the ideal situation would be to rebuild the family and return children to their family environment. However, where it was clear that their family was unwilling or unable to care for them, the State had to look after those children and foster care was the only option.
The issue of child labour was taken very seriously by Sao Tomé and Principe. More work was needed in terms of implementing the conventions to which the country was party. Further and more detailed information gathered by the National Statistics Agency would help the Government to gain a better understanding of, and deal more effectively with, issues such as child labour. There were indications that the situation on the island of Príncipe required close attention. Overall, it was crucial to make people more aware of the importance of the family unit.
Concerning corporal punishment, a delegate said the 1977 law needed to be modernized but, in the meantime there were provisions in the current penal code covering corporal violence against children. The code, however, did not specify exactly what types of corporal punishment that covered.
The delegation said that there should be many more fora and settings where children could express themselves, such as the Children’s Parliament. Nevertheless, children were aware of their rights and were not restricted in any way when it came to expressing themselves and voicing their views.
Concerning alternative punishments used by parents, the delegation said that awareness-raising campaigns were important because they could help educate the people on using communication and other methods of parenting as alternatives to corporal punishment.
Responding to comments about access to justice, the delegation said that Sao Tomé and Príncipe was a very small place where everyone knew each other. Often people would address their complaints directly to the Minister of Justice instead of bringing a case before the courts. The Ministry of Justice pointed persons with complaints in the right direction. The important thing was, the delegation said, that people, including non-governmental organizations acting on behalf of children, had access to complaint procedures.
In response to a question about the sexual exploitation of children who had been forced into prostitution, the delegation said that the new 2012 penal code had specific provisions for such matters. It was equally important, however, to tackle the problem of stigmatization by encouraging people to talk openly about incidents of sexual exploitation. Sometimes children who had found themselves in difficult situations would be too embarrassed to tell the truth or give a full account of events to the authorities when asked to do so.
Concerning the questions on juvenile delinquency, the delegation said that the age of criminal responsibility was 16 years old. According to the law, children under the age of 16 years old could not be sent to jail, mainly out of safety concerns. There were specific corrective institutions which focused on the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders and prepared their reintegration in society. There was currently no child court in the country. Reform of the justice system, including the creation of specialized courts, could not be completed overnight but required time.
The attendance of pregnant girls at school was restricted from the third month of pregnancy, at which point the girl pupil was transferred to an evening school, as was the boy father of the baby. If the law were to change, there would be major protests form the other pupils attending morning schools.
The education and training strategy of the Government had been recently reviewed to ensure education for all. Pre-schools and kindergartens were not entirely free of charge, since parents were expected to make an annual contribution of approximately eight Euros. Primary education was free and compulsory, and the rate of school drop-outs was steadily decreasing. One hot meal a day was provided to all pupils free of charge and free school kits were distributed to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In Sao Tomé and Príncipe the law protected citizens from all violations of human life. No incidents of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment had been reported. Concerning adolescent health, approximately 40 young girls below the age of 17 became pregnant every year. Awareness-raising campaigns and a free distribution of condoms were used to provide information to young persons about teenage pregnancy and sexual health. The church also played an important role in providing information to parents and teenagers and in advocating abstinence.
Concerning maternal health policies, there were doctors and psychologists who looked after pregnant mothers. Anti-retroviral drugs were provided free of charge to pregnant mothers living with HIV/AIDS, and home visits were organized for vulnerable mothers. The issue of sexual health had been included in the school curriculum. Awareness-raising campaigns in the communities and schools aimed to change the attitude of young persons to issues which affected them.
On the issue of abandoned children, the delegation said that some men in Sao Tomé and Príncipe would have children with several women, which sometimes left single mothers alone to look after their children with no help from the father. The Government was working with non-governmental organizations and was taking measures to help underprivileged children and disadvantaged one-parent families. Shelter institutions looked after not only abandoned children but whole families, too. A set of laws were currently being passed to put in place regulations and specific provisions dealing with children who needed to be placed in foster care.
AGNES AKOSUA AIDOO, Country Rapporteur for Sao Tomé and Príncipe, said that the dialogue with the Sao Tomé and Príncipe delegation had been frank and informative, and had helped the Committee to clarify many issues. Sao Tomé and Principe had made significant achievements in the areas of health and education. Remaining structural challenges related to the country’s limited financial resources, poverty, and the lack of qualified social care personnel. The country also faced institutional capacity challenges. Stigmatization and cultural constraints persisted, and required sensitization campaigns which would help to change attitudes. There were also challenges with regard to law enforcement and the implementation of policies and strategies.
There was much room for progress, Ms. Aidoo said, and the Committee would make recommendations concerning non-discrimination against pregnant girls, the right of children to be heard, the need for an independent institution which would monitor the rights of the child, the development of a data collection system, enhanced social protection, strengthened support to families and communities to help them meet their parental responsibilities, improved juvenile justice system, and work to prevent early pregnancies.
EDITE RAMOS DA COSTA TEN JUA, Minister of Justice, Public Administration and Parliamentary Affairs, thanked the Committee for a dynamic and fruitful discussion and said the delegation would take home the sincere commitment of the Committee to the wellbeing of children in Sao Tomé and Príncipe, and would examine closely the recommendations made by Committee Experts. Sao Tomé and Príncipe would make every effort to enhance implementation of the Convention with a view to preparing its boys and girls to take over in a few years’ time and further advance the promotion and protection of the rights of the child.
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