Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, of both men and women is illegal, and conviction is punishable by two to 12 years’ imprisonment. The prosecution of rape occurred most often in cases in which there was evidence of violent assault or the victim was a minor. Government prosecutors won convictions, and judges imposed sentences of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape if the victim died. The government did not enforce rape and domestic violence laws effectively, but international efforts focused attention on this issue.
There were widespread reports of domestic violence. According to a report by the Saotomean National Institute of Statistics, the Ministry of Health, and ICF Macro, approximately one-third of women experienced intimate-partner physical abuse, sexual violence, or both at least once in their lifetime. Although women have the right to legal recourse in cases of domestic violence, including against spouses, many were reluctant to take legal action because of the cost, a general lack of confidence in the legal system to address their concerns effectively, and fear of retaliation. Women often were uninformed of their legal rights. The law prescribes penalties ranging from imprisonment for three to eight years for conviction of domestic violence resulting in harm to the health of the victim to incarceration for eight to 16 years when such violence leads to loss of life. There were no data on the number of prosecutions or convictions for domestic violence.
The Office of Women’s Affairs, under the Prime Minister’s Office, and UNICEF maintained a counseling center and small shelter with a hotline for domestic violence. In prior years the Gender Equality Institute within the Office of Women’s Affairs conducted awareness workshops and seminars to educate women on their rights, but lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic precluded these efforts during the year. There was an increase in police reports of gender-based violence against both women and girls during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The institute also trained police, medical professionals, court officials, and lawyers on how to recognize and respond to cases of domestic abuse.
Sexual Harassment: While the law prohibits sexual harassment, it was endemic. In cases of sexual harassment that involved violence or threats, the law prescribes penalties for conviction of one to eight years’ imprisonment. The maximum penalty for conviction in other cases of sexual harassment is three years’ imprisonment. The government sometimes enforced the law.
Reproductive Rights: The country has no law, regulation, or government policy that interferes with couples’ or individuals’ right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. All individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
The government encouraged the use of contraception and family planning, but sociocultural barriers affected the use of family planning. There were reports that some men prevented their partners from using contraceptives, sometimes through intimidation. According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the country had a weak and ineffective communication strategy that was unable to change behaviors on family planning or raise its low contraception prevalence rate of 37 percent, compared to the 50-percent rate the government committed to providing.
The country had seven healthcare centers, two of which were equipped to provide emergency obstetrical and neonatal care. These two centers served about 35 percent of the population. The UNFPA reinforced the capacity of 37 of the country’s 38 health facilities to provide at least four modern contraceptive methods, as well as voluntary counseling and testing. The UNFPA supplied maternity wards with medicines and strengthened the capacity of 19 health centers to provide emergency obstetrical and neonatal care. The quality of health-care services improved, and logistics management information systems for health care also improved.
According to a UNFPA report, several indicators related to child and maternal health improved. For example, 93 percent of births were attended by a health professional and 97 percent of health facilities provided maternal and child health services and family planning. Many family planning needs, however, remained unmet and early pregnancy remained high at 27 percent.
There were no special health services for survivors of sexual violence, including survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. The central hospital and health center was able to provide these services to the victims.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, but they do not specifically recognize these rights as they pertain to the family, child custody, owning or managing businesses or property, nationality, or inheritance. Economic discrimination did not generally occur in the areas of credit or housing.
While many women had access to opportunities in education, business, and government, women–particularly older women and those living in rural areas–generally encountered significant societal discrimination. Traditional beliefs left women with most child-rearing responsibilities. Nevertheless, younger women increasingly had access to educational and professional opportunities compared with the older generation, but a high teenage pregnancy rate reduced economic opportunities for many. The government repealed regulations prohibiting pregnant teenagers from attending high school with their peers.
Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship either through parents or by being born within the country. Either parent, if a citizen, may confer citizenship on a child born outside the country. By law children born in a hospital are registered on site. If not born in a hospital, the child must be registered at the nearest precinct office. Parents who fail to register a birth may be fined.
Child Abuse: Mistreatment of children was not widespread; however, there were few protections for orphans and abandoned children.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage without parental consent is 18. With parental consent, girls may marry at age 14 and boys at age 16. According to UNICEF, 35 percent of girls married before age 18 and 8 percent married before age 15.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits statutory rape and child pornography. The government also uses proscription of kidnapping or unlawful forced labor to enforce the law against sexual exploitation of children. The penalty for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of minors younger than age 14 is two to 10 years’ imprisonment, and the penalty for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of minors between ages 14 and 18 is up to three years’ imprisonment. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18, although societal norms only consider sex under age 14 to raise concerns of consent. There were reports of children engaged in prostitution.
Displaced Children: The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs operated a social services program that placed street children in three centers where they attended classes and received vocational training. Additionally, a World Bank program designed to keep street children in school disbursed money to their families for food and school supplies.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There is no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
There were no confirmed reports during the year that Sao Tome and Principe was a source, destination, or transit country for victims of human trafficking.
Persons with Disabilities
The law generally prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities; however, it does not mandate access to most buildings, transportation, or other services for persons with disabilities. By law school buildings must be accessible to persons with disabilities, and renovations to bring schools into compliance were in progress during the year. Most children with disabilities attended the same schools as children without disabilities.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Antidiscrimination laws do not explicitly extend protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or sex characteristics. There were occasional reports of societal discrimination, primarily rejection by family and friends, based on an individual’s LGBTI status. While there were no official impediments, LGBTI organizations did not exist.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Communities and families often rejected and shunned persons with HIV/AIDS. NGOs held awareness-raising campaigns and interventions with employers to address discrimination against employees with HIV/AIDS.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
In September the Order of Doctors called on the government to investigate the beatings of doctors and nurses at health centers, including of Cristiano Pedroso, in front of the central Sao Tome hospital, Ayres de Menezes. On September 12, Pedroso died of cardiac arrest after being beaten by the relative of a patient.