Cameroon is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking and a country of origin for women subjected to forced labor and forced prostitution. Trafficking operations usually target two or three children, often when rural parents hand over their children to an intermediary promising an education or a better life in the city. Traffickers are increasingly resorting to kidnapping their victims, however, as heightened public awareness about trafficking has led to parents being less willing to give their children to these intermediaries. Cameroonian children are exploited in many sectors such as domestic service; street vending; mining; agriculture, including on tea and cocoa plantations; in the urban transportation and construction sectors, where they perform odd jobs as errand boys and laborers on construction sites; and in prostitution within the country. Reports indicate the existence of hereditary slavery in northern chiefdoms. Cameroonian women are lured to Europe and other regions by fraudulent internet marriage proposals or offers of domestic work and subsequently become victims of forced labor or forced prostitution in Switzerland and France, with smaller numbers in Russia. During the year, Cameroonian trafficking victims were also identified in Denmark, Cyprus, Spain, Germany, Norway, Slovakia, the United Arab Emirates, and several West and Central African countries.
The Government of Cameroon does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting year, the government continued to make modest improvements to its legal and regulatory framework by using a newly enacted law to prosecute three traffickers and by drafting amendments to address shortcomings in victim witness protection. The government also developed formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations and refer them to care centers and continued to take significant steps to prevent human trafficking. Despite these efforts, the government did not make adequate progress in ensuring trafficking victims received access to protective services, and data collection remained sporadic and did not cover the entire country, resulting in unreliable and incomplete statistics on victim identification and law enforcement.
Recommendations for Cameroon: Vigorously prosecute and convict trafficking offenders, including government employees complicit in trafficking-related offenses; continue to educate police, judges, lawyers, and social workers about the new law against human trafficking; dedicate resources to improve the collection of statistics relating to victim identification and law enforcement; develop standardized procedures for referring trafficking victims to NGO care services, and socialize these mechanisms among government officials and the NGO community; and address cases of hereditary servitude in the northern regions.
The Government of Cameroon sustained modest anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. The 2011 Law Relating to the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons and Slavery prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons, and under Section 4 prescribes a penalty of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment, penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Section 5 prescribes penalties ranging from 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment if the trafficking victim is 15 years of age or younger, if violent pretexts are used to coerce the victim, or if the victim sustains serious injuries as a result of trafficking. Section 3 prescribes penalties for debt bondage ranging from five to 10 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are also sufficiently stringent. In collaboration with an NGO, the government organized a working session in July 2012, which brought together 30 government and civil society actors, as well as national and international experts on trafficking. As a result of the session, the government began drafting amendments to the 2011 law to address shortcomings in protection of victims and witnesses; these amendments were still under consideration at the end of the reporting period.
During the reporting period, the government initiated three trafficking prosecutions but had not yet secured convictions by the end of the reporting period; all three prosecutions remained pending in the Southwest region. This represents a decrease from the previous reporting period, in which the government conducted five trafficking investigations and obtained two convictions. Additionally, two investigations involving child trafficking in the Littoral and South regions were ongoing at the close of 2012. However, the government failed to collect comprehensive anti-trafficking law enforcement data from all of Cameroon’s 10 regions during the reporting period. It also did not report any investigations or prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses.
The Cameroonian government demonstrated modest efforts to ensure victims of trafficking received access to protective services. The government and NGOs identified 87 trafficking victims during the reporting period, a decrease from the 135 victims identified in the previous reporting period. The government continued to provide limited direct assistance to child victims, including shelter, medical assistance, and psychological support. These government-run shelters are closed—adult victims are not allowed to leave at will or unchaperoned. It is unclear how much funding the government devoted to victim care during 2012 or how many victims received services; however, the Ministry of Social Action (MSA) identified and placed 25 vulnerable children in government care facilities for assistance. Local and international NGOs provided the majority of victim services in the country, and the government has yet to institute a standardized, reliable referral mechanism to refer victims to these services. At ports of entry, trained customs and border security officers interrogated adults accompanying children and checked their travel documents to verify their parentage; however, these procedures did not result in the identification of any trafficking cases during the reporting period.
The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes. Victims may file suits or seek legal action against traffickers, and, because children are the main victims of trafficking in Cameroon, family members may also bring civil suits against traffickers on behalf of children. At least six victims received financial settlements from their traffickers after filing such suits. Although the government stated it would provide temporary resident status or legal alternatives to the removal of foreign trafficking victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution, no such relief was provided during the reporting period. The government did not punish any trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
The Cameroonian government demonstrated continued progress in preventing human trafficking over the last year. An inter-ministerial committee, chaired by the secretary general of the prime minister’s office and comprised of over a dozen different ministries, coordinates anti-trafficking efforts across the government. The government continued a nationwide awareness campaign about trafficking and the exploitation of children through a joint effort with UNICEF in the Littoral, Northwest, Southwest, and West regions. The National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms and the MSA also organized seminars and meetings to raise public awareness on trafficking in persons. The government continued to address the phenomenon of street children, a vulnerable population considered at high risk of becoming trafficking victims, and identified 285 new cases during the reporting period. The government returned the majority of these children to their families and periodically followed up with families to ensure that children were not returned to the streets. The government continued to provide members of the Cameroonian armed forces with training on human trafficking prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions as part of an overall briefing on international humanitarian law.