Sao Tome and Principe

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Persistent violations




This island nation located in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Central Africa is a former Portuguese colony. On children's rights, the country has yet to ratify all three Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Meanwhile plans to implement a stronger education system are hindered by a lack of domestic financing, which has resulted in poor infrastructure in schools. The practice of early marriages is also a persistent children’s rights violation.


São Tomé and Príncipe is an island nation located 250 kilometres off the coast of Gabon in the Gulf of Guinea. The islands are of volcanic origin, with rugged terrain that renders large parts of the islands inaccessible. It is the second smallest African country, and takes its name from Saint Thomas. The capital city is São Tomé.

Population and language

São Tomé and Príncipe is home to just under 170,000 people, a figure that has increased significantly over the past three decades, rising between 1.5 and 2 per cent annually[1]. Portuguese and a variety of Creole dialects are spoken on the islands. Lungwa Santome is the main lingua franca, while Angolar and Lungwiye are also widely spoken[2].

History and politics

The country declared its independence from Portugal in 1975, establishing a single party socialist state under the MLSTP (Movimento de Libertacao de São Tomé e Príncipe). The party initially pursued nationalisation and collectivisation policies and engaged primarily with Cuba and the Soviet bloc on the international stage, but began a process of political and economic liberalisation during the 1980s. In 1990, a new Constitution was established and the first multi-party elections were held.

The Santomean political system is led by a President as head of state and a Prime Minister who is appointed by the President. The Prime Minister in turn appoints the government. The legislature takes the form of a unitary National Assembly in which four parties are currently represented: the MLSTP, the ADI (Acção Democratic Independent), the PCD (Partido Convergencia Democratica) and the MDFM (Movimento Democratico Força da Mundança).

The political environment is relatively unstable, indeed there have been 8 changes of government since 2001, and in 2003 an attempted coup was only brought under control with the intervention of the Nigerian government[3]. Manuel Pinto da Costa, the President from independence until the launch of multi-party democracy, became President again in 2011.


São Tomé and Príncipe has one of the highest debt to export ratios in the world, and is highly dependent on donor assistance. Its chief exports are currently cocoa, copra and palm oil, but a deal to share oil revenues in the Gulf of Guinea with Nigeria could radically alter the national economy[4]. Several exploration blocks have been awarded, and production is expected to begin by 2014.

Media and civil society

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) considers the situation of press freedom in São Tomé and Príncipe to be “satisfactory”, though the country did not feature in the organisation's 2010 World Press Freedom Report. RWB raised the issue of press censorship in relation to the country in January 2011, after the dismissal of a journalist who accused the government of censoring the media[5]

Children's rights

São Tomé and Príncipe has a relatively good human rights record. though it has not ratified either of the optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Concerns generally surround the harshness of prison conditions, police corruption and occasional interference with the independence of the judiciary[6].

  1. UNDESA Population Statistics 2011
  2. Foreign and Commonwealth Office Country Profiles: Sao Tome and Principe
  3. BBC, "Sao Tome leader meets coup leaders" 24 July 2003
  4. BBC,"Sao Tome opens historic oil bids" 8 October 2003 and supra. 2
  5. Reporters Without Borders, "Letter to Prime Minister condemning journalist's dismissal from national TV station" 25 January 2011
  6. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations, July 2004


Quick Facts

  • Population: 171,900 (UNDP, 2012)
  • Population under 18: 79,000 (UNICEF, 2011)
  • Number of internet users: 36,928 (20.2% of the population) (Internet World Stats, 2012)
  • Human Development Index ranking: 144 (UNDP, 2012)
  • Happy Planet Index ranking: N/A