Rise in Child Abuse, Incest Cases in São Tomé and Príncipe “quite alarming”: Catholic Nun

Religious Sisters from São Tome e Principe, Mozambique and Angola. Credit: ACI Africa

The number of reported cases of sexual violation of minors in São Tomé and Príncipe in which family members are perpetrators are on the rise, a Catholic Nun in the African Island nation has said.

In an interview with ACI Africa on the sidelines of a three-day workshop for women Religious on safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults, Sr. Romilsia Perreira described the rise in the reported cases of child abuse and incest as “quite alarming”, adding that the abuses are “often concealed by the family”.

“Lately we have seen an increase of sexual abuse of minors, especially in families, in other words incest. Such cases are often concealed by the family; the mother or the father do not report; it is kept a secret,” Sr. Perreira said during a May 18 interview.

The member of the Canossian Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor (Canossian Sisters) said that the cover-up of the abuses is based on the fact the perpetrators are in most cases the breadwinners of the affected family members and that reporting them would affect the livelihoods of the abused minors. 

She explained, “In the case where a father or stepfather is the perpetrator, mothers often keep silent because of dependency; they worry about who will put food on the table if the breadwinner is arrested. As a result, they end up submitting themselves to various forms of abuse.”


The native of São Tomé and Príncipe spoke about abuses of minors involving teachers in what she described as sex “in exchange for a satisfactory grade”.

“There’s also sexual abuse of schoolgirls, especially teenage girls. Some teachers abuse their students in exchange for a satisfactory grade”, Sr. Perreira told ACI Africa on the sidelines of the May 17-19 workshop that was hosted by the Inter-Regional Meeting of the Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA).

She added, “These kinds of abuses in our society are quite alarming.”

A March 2021 report from the Public Ministry in São Tomé e Príncipe indicates that in 2020, 62 cases of sexual abuse of minors, 53 cases of sexual acts with adolescents, and 363 cases of domestic violence, were pending.

In the May 18 interview with ACI Africa, the Canossian Sister said that senior citizens, “especially the poor”, have also become victims of abuses.

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She said, “Elderly people in our society experience a lot of abuse, especially the poor, not the rich. Some poor elderly members of our society are even burned; others are beaten and are accused of practicing witchcraft.”

Sr. Perreira added, “Fetishistic mentality and lack of knowledge on the part of society and family members causes them to commit these abuses – to think that once an individual reaches old age and develops health complications because of old age, he or she is a sorcerer.”

She went on to highlight the role of the Church in supporting victims of the abuses saying, “The Church is waking up to this reality in our society; it is looking for the best way to really be close to these victims. The Church is also looking at best ways to protect them from these forms of abuse.”

Making reference to a recent agreement between the Catholic Church and Santa Casa da Misericórdia de São Tomé e Príncipe, which caters for the poor and marginalized, Sr. Perreira said that the Catholic Church has been raising awareness about elderly abuse.

“By God’s grace, the Catholic Church in partnership with Santa Casa da Misericórdia, has been doing a great job in raising awareness and protecting these elderly people,” she told ACI Africa on the sidelines of the workshop that was held at Padre Pio Retreat Centre in South Africa’s Pretoria Archdiocese. 


She added in reference to Santa Casa da Misericórdia that she said offers shelter and medical assistance, “When we are told about cases of abuse, we inform the authorities to help us protect the victim.”

“We have had meetings with the Minister of Education in which we suggested forming partnership between the Santomean government and the Church, because alone, as much as we would like to, we can’t do much,” the São Toméan Catholic Nun said. 

She underscored the value of collaboration in addressing the challenge of abuses saying, “If we unite, we can do a lot more, because it is not something linked to the Church specifically; it is a reality of the country and of society.”

Sr. Perreira acknowledged with appreciation the organizers of the three-day workshop that brought together representatives of women Religious in the nine-member countries of IMBISA, namely, Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

She told ACI Africa, “This workshop really inspired us to seek better and more constructed ways to respond to this reality that we unfortunately live and that is becoming alarming.”

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Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.