Realizing Children’s Rights in Equatorial Guinea
Equatorial Guinea is committed to respecting, defending, and promoting the rights of its children. However, there is little documentation on this topic, mainly because many foreign organizations in favour of children’s rights are not allowed to settle on the country’s territory (U.S Department of State, 2021). However, through cross-referenced reading on various topics, particularly in relation to human rights, it is legitimate to assume that the country is facing many issues that still hinder the full realization of Guinean children’s rights.
Children’s Rights Index: 5,52 / 10
Black level: Very serious situation
Population: 1,3 million
Population (aged 0-14): 37%
Life expectancy: 58.7 years
Under-5 mortality rate: 81.8‰
Equatorial Guinea at a glance
Equatorial Guinea is a poor country, with an economy that is essentially based on the cocoa, coffee, and wood industries (Harrison-Church, n.d). Despite a recent discovery and exploitation of oil wells (Harrison-Church, n.d.), the population was not able to profit from this windfall (Harrison-Church, n.d.; SOS Children’s Villages, n.d), which indeed did not constitute a durable and reliable investment (Saadoun, 2017).
President Obiang was not able to use this resource discovery to keep his promises to invest in health and education. In 2004, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed its regret at the failure to invest in these sectors in order to alleviate the situation of children (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 4). In 2011, according to the IMF, the government only dedicated 3% of its general budget to education and less than 2% to health (Saadoun, 2017). Despite the high levels of GDP per capita, Equatorial Guinea ranks very low in terms of the HDI index (Liman Tinguiri, 2010). With an HDI of 0.592 in 2019, it ranked 145th out of a total of 189 countries and territories. This country belongs to the “average human development category”.
From a political perspective, although the Constitution of Equatorial Guinea states that it is a multiparty republic (Government of Equatorial Guinea, 1995, Item 1), President Obiang has been in power since a military coup in 1979 (U.S Department of State, 2021). Elections are not considered transparent or free (U.S Department of State, 2021).
The country has seen numerous violations against human rights, notably related to forced displacements by the government, acts of torture and inhuman treatment of citizens, (U.S Department of State, 2021; Saadoun, 2019) and unfair processes. (U.S Department of State, 2021).
Status of children’s rights 
On an international level, Equatorial Guinea has been a member of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1992. In 2003, the state ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, concerning the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. However, the country has not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, or the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure.
Efforts are therefore expected from Equatorial Guinea in terms of conventional engagement. It is also very late in submitting its reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. While the country’s first report was submitted 9 years late, the report for cycles II-IV was due on July 14, 2009.
Due to the lack of information, it is difficult to acknowledge or measure the degree of application of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (White & Case; Blázquez Hernández; Soliño Casqueiro, 2014). On all aspects, there is a glaring lack of data. Since its initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2003, it has submitted nothing new – this report was even nearly 10 years late (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 1). Equatorial Guinea is not fulfilling its commitments under Article 44 of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 15).
Additionally, it is very difficult to establish an association because of “restrictive and disproportionate rules governing the registration of civil associations” (Human Rights Committee, 2019, p. 12), which makes it hard to access non-government up-to-date data. Human rights defenders are harassed and targeted by the police (Human Rights Committee, 2019, p. 12).
The country has never submitted a report for the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, which was expected by March 7, 2005. It is thus difficult to obtain reliable data, corroborated by different sources, on this country. In 2003, it ratified the Additional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, in particular Women and Children. At the regional level, Equatorial Guinea has been a member of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child since 2002.
At the national law level, there is a real concern for clarity and codification of the rights of the child. In fact, “In Equatorial Guinea, there are no established legal procedures or codification in the legislation. This configuration means that few sources of information on procedures for the application of child rights are available”  (translated).
This 2014 statement is in line with an article on the country published by Yale University in 2005 on the website Representing Children Worldwide (a research project on the situation of children in the world): “Though the Constitution of Equatorial Guinea contains an article protecting children’s physical and psychological health and normal development, the nation does has no formal child protection system in place” (Davis, 2016).
Moreover, although the legal age is set at 18 years, laws dating back to the Spanish colonial period do not take into account this age limit for criminal responsibility or even marriage, resulting in a significant number of very young brides (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 5).
Adressing the needs of children
While there are few information resources for this country, one really captures the very difficult situation with regard to children’s rights – and also highlights the disrespect of the opinion of the child, likewise emphasized by the CRC in its 2004 report (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 6). Dating from June 2021, what makes this article particularly interesting is the story of the struggles of a 14-year-old girl. Jacinta Isabel, Equatoguinean Ambassador for UNICEF, represents a real figure of hope in the fight for the application and respect of human rights (Toichoa Bela, 2021).
The situation is difficult for children in the country, but Jacinta represents a true message of hope, even if other young people question the effectiveness of such a speech: “A comrade once asked me, why continue to focus on the same subject every day if, after all, adults never take our opinions into account?” (translated). Yet, according to her, “We children are the future, we are the light of hope for humanity, we are the force for change” (translated) (Toichoa Bela, 2021).
Right to education
Education is compulsory and free for children aged 6 to 11 (Harrison-Church, n.d). In terms of government measures, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights noted in its 2012 report the adoption of the General Law on Education, the National Plan for Education for All and the Educational Development Programme in Equatorial Guinea (Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 2012, p. 2). However, to date, no data is available to measure their effectiveness. Setting up a data system is one of the Committee’s recommendations (Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 2012, p. 3).
In 2019, schooling was expected to last 9.7 years, while the average duration of schooling was 5.9 years (UNDP, 2020). However, although the schooling is free of charge, some families cannot afford to send their children to school because of their precarious situations (SOS Children’s Villages, n.d). According to UNICEF, in 2016 42% of children were not enrolled in primary school (Human Rights Watch, 2019).
In addition, this country has difficulty in ensuring the right to education for young girls, with a low level of education especially among teenage girls (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 2012, p. 8) despite efforts such as building schools in rural areas and awareness campaigns. These efforts have not helped to resolve the patriarchal situation that affects the application of this right, with sexual harassment in schools, pregnancies and early marriages. Centers for reintegration of teenage girls into the school system are expensive and therefore inaccessible to poor households (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 2012, p. 8).
Corruption is also present in the education system, which in itself is rigged: teachers are forced to inflate the grades of students who have links with the political elite (U.S Department of State, 2021).
Right to protection
Although domestic violence is illegal and offenders can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, the law is not properly enforced by the government and victims rarely complain. Child protection is not adequately ensured. For example, domestic violence is considered a private matter, which must be resolved within the home (U.S Department of State, 2021). Similarly, while child abuse is illegal, the law is not properly enforced. Disciplining children through violence is culturally accepted (U.S Department of State, 2021). Children are not particularly protected against sexual violence, especially when there is a family connection between the perpetrator and the victim (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 9).
The law does not provide an age limit for preemption of sexual violence: for example, it would not be deemed sexual violence if girls under the age of 12 were touched (Human Rights Committee, 2019, p. 6). In cases of rape, according to the law, proceedings can be terminated when “the victim has explicitly or tacitly forgiven the perpetrator […] (Criminal Code, art. 443)” (Human Rights Committee, 2019, p. 6). Gender-based violence is also a real challenge in the country, including “stigmatization of victims, fear of reprisals, and lack of trust in law enforcement authorities” (Human Rights Committee, 2019, p. 6).
Right to health
The right to health is difficult to guarantee for Equatoguinean children. Despite efforts highlighted by the CRC in 2004 (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 10), the under-five infant mortality rate remains high. Malnutrition is common (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 10). Difficult access to water (SOS Children’s Villages, n.d.) and sanitation facilities are health challenges and facilitate the spread of disease (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 10). Malaria, for example, is one of the water-borne diseases that is very prevalent in this country (SOS Children’s Villages, n.d; Policarpo, 2015). A 2011 state survey indicates very low rates of access to drinking water alongside child malnutrition (Human Rights Watch, 2019).
The spread of AIDS and HIV is of particular concern and a real public health issue. For example, among teenage girls, there is a high rate of sexually transmitted diseases, as well as a high pregnancy rate (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, 2012, p. 9). According to SOS Children’s Villages, between 2003 and 2010 the number of people living with HIV nearly doubled (SOS Children’s Villages, n.d).
In 2004, CRC highlighted efforts to “address the spread of HIV/AIDS, e.g. the National Programme to fight HIV/AIDS,” but this is not enough. There is also the question of orphans because of this disease. (SOS Children’s Villages, n.d.; Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 10). However, in 2005, the state passed Law No. 3/2005 on the Prevention and Control of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and HIV/AIDS (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 2012, p. 1).
As demonstrated above, it should be noted that the government invests very little in the health sector – despite efforts highlighted by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (2012, p. 9). One example is the still very high infant mortality rate, in spite of government actions (Human Rights Committee, 2019, p. 7).
Right to identity
A newborn child obtains Equatoguinean citizenship if at least one of his two parents is a citizen of that country, but he must be registered to have an identity, which is a challenge for families. Being born on the territory does not automatically mean citizenship: children whose foreign parents are in the country and who are born on the territory can only apply for it from the age of 18 (U.S Department of State, 2021). Then there is the question of children from refugee families.
The Government does not cooperate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or other organizations with a mandate for displaced people, refugees and/or asylum seekers. UNHCR does not have an office in the country. Equatoguinean law provides for a procedure for obtaining asylum, but there is no government program to ensure refugee protection (U.S Department of State, 2021).
Risk Factors -> Country-Specific Challenges
The economic exploitation of children is commonplace in this country. This is corroborated by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in its 2004 report, despite the ratification of ILO Conventions 138 and 182 by Equatorial Guinea in 2001 (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 13). It includes the trafficking of minors, which is a reality in this country (Bureau of International Labor Affairs – USA, 2007; Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 13). Although this is prohibited by law, no cases have been brought to justice or sanctioned by the government.
In its 2012 report, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women stresses that although Equatorial Guinea has adopted Law No 1/2004 on the Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking of Human Beings, the latter is very rarely applied. In addition, the oil boom has contributed to the growth of human trafficking for the purposes of labor exploitation and sexual exploitation. However, there is no data to measure the extent of the violations (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, 2012, p. 7).
Child labor is prohibited by Equatoguinean law under the age of 14 and work performed by children under the age of 16 must not endanger their dignity and physical and moral security (Bureau of International Labor Affairs – USA, 2007). There are government standards that impose a curfew for young people under the age of 16 at 11 p.m. and prohibit parental figures from exploiting children (as street vendors, waiters, etc.). If children under the age of 14 are found working, they must be arrested and employers disciplined; the same applies to jobs that are dangerous for children under the age of 16. However, the U.S. Department of State declares that these laws are not properly enforced (Bureau of International Labor Affairs – USA, 2007).
The minimum age for marriage is 14 years. The latest available UNICEF data from 2014 indicated that 9% of women had been married before the age of 15, rising to 30% for under-18s. Although there is little data on this, forced marriage is a reality (U.S Department of State, 2021). The government is trying to raise awareness against child marriage, but forced marriage does not appear to be part of its programs (U.S Department of State, 2021).
There is a deeply-rooted patriarchal society in this country (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 2012, p. 5). Equatorial Guinea’s society is based on gendered stereotypes, even though the state constitution promotes equality between men and women. Culturally, women and girls must fulfil certain roles (U.S Department of State, 2021). However, the government is raising awareness through seminars, courses and media campaigns. For Women’s Rights Day, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Gender Equality even organized an event (U.S Department of State, 2021).
In addition, other forms of discrimination exist, beyond sexism. In particular, the CRC points to the inadequacy of measures regarding “social discrimination and cultural practices […] against vulnerable groups of children, in particular girls, children born out of wedlock, children with disabilities, children belonging to ethnic minorities and children from poor and rural families” (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004).
According to the CRC, this being the most recent reference found to date, a juvenile justice system does not exist within the country – notably, there is no tribunal body. Children are not separated from adults when and if they are detained, and like their elders, experience very difficult living conditions without access to basic services (Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2004, p. 14). This data is also included in the Human Rights Committee’s 2019 report (p. 9).
Written by Juliette Bail
Translated by Mariam Hussein
Proofread by Amanda Fearnley
Last updated on August 13, 2021
Comité des droits de l’enfant. (2004, novembre 3). Observations finales du Comité des droits de l’’enfant: Guinée équatoriale – CRC/C/15/Add.245. Récupéré sur United Nations Human rights Treaty Bodies.
Comité des droits économiques, sociaux et culturels. (2012, décembre 13). Observations en l’absence du rapport initial de la Guinée équatoriale, adoptées par le Comité à sa quarante-neuvième session (14-30 novembre 2012). Récupéré sur United Nations Human Rights Treaty bodies.
Comité pour l’élimination de la discrimination à l’égard des femmes. (2012, novembre 9). Observations finales concernant le sixième rapport périodique de la Guinée équatoriale, adoptées par le Comité à sa cinquante-troisième session (1er-19 octobre 2012). Récupéré sur United Nations Human Rights Treaty bodies.
PNUD. (2020). La prochaine frontière: le développement humain et l’Anthropocène Note d’information à l’intention des pays concernant le Rapport sur le développement humain 2020 – Guinée équatoriale. Récupéré sur Programme des Nations unies pour le développement.
 This article does not purport to provide a complete or representative account of the rights of the child in Equatorial Guinea. Indeed, one of the main difficulties is the lack of up-to-date information on children in Equatorial Guinea, most of which is neither reliable or representative, but is obsolete or simply non-existent.
 “En Guinea Ecuatorial no existen ni procedimientos judiciales establecidos, ni codificación de la legislación. Esta combinación provoca que haya disponibles pocas fuentes de información procesal relativa a la aplicación de los derechos de los niños.” (White & Case; Blázquez Hernández; Soliño Casqueiro, 2014, p. 3)
 “Los niños somos el futuro, somos la luz de esperanza para la humanidad, somos la fuerza del cambio” (Toichoa Bela, 2021).