São Tomé and Príncipe

Last Updated 16 October 2018

In the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa, the island is a former Portuguese colony, which gained independence in 1975. The new president, elected in 2011 promised to focus on ensuring political stability and ending corruption. The recent discovery of oil in the Gulf of Guinea provided new hope for improving the country’s economy.

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Constitution and government

The constitution of São Tomé and Príncipe guarantees freedom of conscience, religion and worship.

Article 8 explicitly stipulates that São Tomé and Príncipe is a secular state and that all religious institutions are separated from state institutions.

Religious groups have to register with the government. The registration process does not appear to be onerous or obstructive.

Education and children’s rights

There are no reported issues with religious schools or religion in schools.

Although the country has achieved universal primary education, the system faces challenges with respect to efficiency, quality and governance. About 60% of primary education teachers are unqualified. To address some of these issues, the government has developed an education sector plan, as well as an Educational Policy Charter 2012-2020, outlining new strategies. The final objective of the government is to provide 12 years of free, quality education to all children in the country, as well as offer higher and technical education opportunities.

Family, community and society

There are around 190,000 inhabitants of São Tomé and Príncipe. About 85% are Catholics, 12% are Protestants, than 2% are Muslims, though there has been migration from Nigeria and Cameroon in recent years which may increase the proportion of Muslims.

Registered religious groups receive only the same benefits, such as tax exemptions, as registered nonprofit organizations, therefore it seems that humanist or secular worldview organizations would not be barred from equal treatment.

The Catholic roots of around 80 percent of the population go back to the fifteenth century. However, besides baptisms, wakes and funeral masses, other Catholic sacraments are rarely observed. A widely held set of spiritist beliefs derived from the religions of African coastal societies continues alongside Catholic belief. Spiritist rituals often center on healing and appeasing spirits.

Though this diffuse, syncretic religious culture could conceivably be alienating to an individual who rejected all religious belief, we have found no reports of direct discrimination against non-religious individuals.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

According to Freedom House the country is “Free”, holding “regular, competitive national elections… Civil liberties are generally respected, but poverty and corruption have weakened some institutions and contributed to dysfunction in the justice system. The opposition has accused the ruling party of using its control over the presidency and a strong parliamentary majority to consolidate power… Public media convey opposition views and grant some access to opposition leaders, but only a handful of private media outlets are available, and a degree of self-censorship is reported at both public and private outlets. There are no restrictions on online media, though the sector is poorly developed. Less than a third of the population has internet access.”

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