Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides penalties of between five and 10 years’ imprisonment for convicted rapists. Police and courts, however, rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since victims often did not report their cases. The law does not address spousal rape.
In the National Gender Policy Document for the period 2011-20 adopted in 2014 and released in 2015, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family asserted 52 percent of women experienced domestic violence at least once and that 53 percent experienced violence by the age of 15. The ministries further indicated, based on a 2008 study on rape and incest, 5.2 percent of women were victims of sexual violence. Of those, 33 percent became pregnant and 16 percent contracted sexually transmitted infections. The report indicated more than one million girls and women were reported to have suffered an attempted rape and that rape was becoming widespread in all regions of the country. Included in this figure was incest, which applied to 18 percent of raped women.
The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, in conjunction with local NGOs, continued their campaign to raise awareness of rape and educate citizens on penal provisions against rape, including through educative talks and sociolegal clinics. Activities were mostly centered on women commemorative days, such as the International Women’s Day, African Women’s Day, Rural Women’s Day, and other fora involving mass mobilization of women. The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family reportedly trained 150 police officers on how to address violence against women. During the year the Littoral branch of the NCHRF, in collaboration with Douala-based LFM Radio, implemented a program against gender-based violence. The interactive program broadcast every Saturday offered women the opportunity to share their concerns with, and seek advice from, a lawyer.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law protects physical and bodily integrity of persons, and the penal code enacted on July 12 has specific provisions on genital mutilation/cutting. The law prohibits genital mutilation of all persons. Whoever mutilates the genitals of a person, by any means whatsoever, on conviction is subject to imprisonment from 10 to 20 years, and imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice, does so for commercial purposes, or if the practice causes death. Children were reportedly subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions, in the Choa and Ejagham tribes, although the practice was reported to be decreasing. In 2015 The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family estimated the prevalence of FGM/C at 1.4 percent nationwide and 20 percent in the most affected communities. According to UNICEF’s Global Databases 2016, FGM/C among girls and women ages 15 to 49 was 1 percent in urban centers and 2 percent in rural areas. In 2011 the government adopted a national action plan, and The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family established local FGM/C committees in areas where FGM/C was most prevalent, particularly in the Far North Region. The committees networked with former excision practitioners and traditional and religious leaders to reduce the practice. During the year the ministries and some civil society organizations conducted education programs against gender-based violence, including FGM/C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The practice of widow rites remained a problem in some areas, especially in the south. The practices varied from area to area but generally entailed new widows having to remove all hair using a razor blade, spend the night sleeping on the floor, and forgo bathing and other hygiene practices for extended periods. Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of the deceased husband’s relatives as a condition for them to secure continued enjoyment of the property left by the deceased, including the marital home. In an attempt to better protect women, including widows, the government included in the new penal code provisions addressing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the spouse of the victim.
As in 2015, there were no credible reports of breast ironing, a procedure to flatten a girl’s growing breasts with hot stones, cast-iron pans, or bricks. The procedure was considered a way to delay a girl’s physical development, thus limiting the risk of sexual assault and teenage pregnancy. The procedure has harmful physical and psychological consequences, which include pain, cysts, abscesses, and physical and psychological scarring. During the year the government further discouraged the practice by including a relevant provision in the new penal code. Although the code does not specifically refer to breast ironing, it provides that whoever, in any manner whatsoever, interferes with an organ in order to inhibit its normal growth shall be punished with imprisonment from six months to five years, fines from 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($170-$1,700), or both. As formulated, the provision adequately covers breast ironing.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. The new penal code provides punishment with imprisonment from six months to one year and with fines from 100,000 to one million CFA francs ($170-$1,700) for whoever takes advantage of the authority conferred on them by their position to harass another using orders, threats, constraints, or pressure in order to obtain sexual favors. The penalty is imprisonment for one to three years if the victim is a minor and from three to five years if the offender is in charge of the education of the victim. Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread. Anecdotal reports suggest immigrant or refugee widows coming from the CAR were very susceptible to sexual harassment in the domestic work sector.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Many often lacked the information and means to do so, however, and societal pressures continued to reinforce taboos on discussing all sex-related issues, particularly in northern rural areas. Women’s dependence on their husbands’ consent was also a barrier to contraceptive decisions.
The UN 2014 Multiple Index Cluster Survey (MICS) indicated 82.8 percent of pregnant women had at least one antenatal care visit by a qualified health worker, 64.7 percent delivered with assistance from qualified birth attendants, and 61.3 percent of the deliveries occurred in a health facility. Prenatal care, skilled attendance during childbirth, emergency obstetric, neonatal, and postpartum care remained inadequate, particularly in rural areas.
Maternal mortality remained high. According to the World Health Organization’s 2015 estimates, maternal mortality stood at 690 deaths per 100,000 live births. The high mortality rate was attributed to lack of access to medical care; lack of trained medical personnel; the high cost of prenatal care, hospital delivery, and postpartum care; and negligence by hospital staff.
For example, on March 12, the bloody and naked corpse of Monique Koumate and her twin babies were found on the ground at the Douala Laquintinie hospital yard; a relative had used a razor blade to open her womb in an attempt to rescue the unborn twins. Authorities claimed Koumate died hours before arrival at the hospital and blamed the sister who cut open her womb. The sister insisted she performed the surgery hoping to save the babies, who were still alive, because the nurses on duty refused to help.
The UN Population Division estimated only 20.2 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015. The low rate of contraception use was largely due to the lack of skilled personnel and lack of adequate infrastructure and contraceptives. The Ministry of Public Health provided counseling services to women during prenatal visits, promoting the concept of responsible parenthood and encouraging couples to use contraception to space the timing of their children. The Ministry of Social Affairs also had an educational program on responsible parenthood, which was broadcast twice weekly. Couples were encouraged to get HIV/AIDS testing prior to conception, and efforts continued to increase HIV/AIDS testing for pregnant women at health clinics.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including in terms of family, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance. Despite constitutional and legal provisions recognizing women’s rights, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. For example, the law allows a husband to deny his wife the ability to work outside the home, and a husband may also forbid his wife to engage in commercial activity by notifying the clerk of the commerce tribunal. Also, while polygamy is authorized, polyandry is illegal. Customary law imposes further strictures on women, since in many regions a woman is regarded as the property of her husband. Because of custom and tradition, civil laws protecting women often were not respected. For example, in some ethnic groups women were precluded from inheriting from their husbands. Although local government officials including mayors claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of depriving women of land ownership, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions.
The provision on adultery in the new penal code was revised to apply evenly to men and women. Under the previous law, a married man could be punished only if he had sexual intercourse in the marital home or habitually had sexual intercourse elsewhere with a woman other than his wife or wives. Under the new law, a husband who has sexual intercourse with a woman other than his wife or wives may be subject to punishment.
During the year the prime minister launched the UN Women initiative to involve men and boys in the advocacy against gender discrimination. The UN HeForShe campaign began on August 11 and aimed to engage men and boys as advocates and agents for change to achieve gender equality and women’s rights.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from parents, and it is the parents’ responsibility to register births. Parents must obtain a birth declaration from the hospital or health facility in which the child was born and complete the application. The mayor’s office issues the birth certificate once the file is completed and approved. Because many children were not born in formal health facilities and many parents were unable to reach local government offices, many births were unregistered. According to the 2014 MICS, birth registration rate for children below the age of five was 66.1 percent. Social workers attributed the low level to negligence, poverty, and poor education. Parents often registered children only when the children were about to enroll for the first school leading to a certificate. A 2011 law brought innovations in the national civil status system, including creation in 2013 of a national civil status office that became operational with the appointment of its management staff in September 2015, but more especially the extension of deadlines for birth registration from 30 to 90 days, thus increasing the probability for parents to register new births.
Education: The law provides that primary education is compulsory but does not set an age limit. Children were generally expected to complete primary education at age 12, or at ages 13-14 if they had to repeat classes. In July the government criminalized interference with the right to education or training. Under the new penal code, any parent with sufficient means who refuses to send his child to school is subject to a fine of from 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($85-$850), and imprisonment from one to two years if the offense is repeated. Public primary school was tuition-free, but children had to pay for uniforms, books, and sometimes extra fees. Secondary school students had to pay tuition and other fees in addition to buying uniforms and books. This rendered education unaffordable for many children. According to estimates from the 2014 MICS, the primary school attendance rate was 85.4 percent, with a primary school completion rate of 81 percent. According to a 2015 report from UNICEF, the Ministry of Health, and the National Institute of Statistics, 87 percent of boys attended primary school, compared with 84 percent of girls; and 55 percent of boys attended secondary school, compared with 50 percent of girls. According to the same report, 83 percent of boys completed primary school, compared with 78 percent of girls.
During the year Boko Haram destroyed hundreds of classrooms, and the government reportedly shut down entire schools due to security concerns. This aggravated lack of access to education in the Far North Region; the 2016-17 academic year was largely lost for many children.
Child Abuse: Child abuse remained a problem. Children continued to suffer corporal punishment, both within families and in the school environment. According to a 2011 survey, 76 percent of children reported being hit frequently at home, and 10 percent of those between the ages of six and 15 reported sexual abuse. Newspaper reports often cited cases of children abandoned, thrown in the trash, or being victims of kidnapping and mutilation. Also, Boko Haram abducted children and, in some instances, used them as suicide bombers.
For example, on February 16, in Buea, 14-year-old Nkeih Lizette reported her father Nkeih Ernest had been sexually abusing her since she was 10 years old. Nkeih claimed she had been pregnant four times and aborted three times using medications she bought on the streets. At the time she was suffering from severe hemorrhage, allegedly because of a failed abortion. The judicial police in Buea arrested the offender. There were no reported developments on the case as of September 30.
These allegations were consistent with findings of the International Center for the Promotion of Creation (CIPCRE), an international NGO. CIPCRE recorded 475 cases of sexual abuse of children from January 2015 to June 2016, including 36 children under age seven and 100 under 14. One hundred and nine children had contracted pregnancies, six died, 144 had severe injuries, and 49 were infected, all because of sexual abuse. In most cases CIPCRE stated the perpetrator was a relative.
On March 11, in Bamenda, Northwest Region, a four-year-old nursery pupil was discovered with serious scars on her face and body. NGO officials concluded the scars were a result of mistreatment the child received from her mother and a domestic helper.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 15 for girls and 18 for men, although some families reportedly tried to marry their girls earlier. According to the 2014 MICS, 11.4 percent of women and girls ages 15 to 49 were married or in union by age 15, 36 percent of women and girls ages 20 to 49 were married or in union by age 18, and 22.3 percent of youths ages 15 to 19 were currently married or in union. Early marriage was prevalent in the Adamawa, North, and particularly Far North Regions. The government conducted education campaigns to combat early marriages and provided medical support and reintegration services to victims.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See information for girls under 18 in the Women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children. A conviction, however, requires there to have been the use of threat, fraud, deception, force, or other forms of coercion. Penalties include imprisonment of 10 to 20 years and a fine of 100,000 to 10 million CFA francs ($170-$17,000). Penalties are increased to 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment if the victim is 15 or younger, if a weapon is used, or if the victim sustains serious injuries as a result of trafficking. The law does not specifically provide a minimum age for consensual sex. The law prohibits the use of children for the production of pornography and provides for prison terms from five to 10 years and fines of five million to 10 million CFA francs ($8,500-$17,000) for perpetrators who use any electronic system to forward child pornography or any document that could harm the dignity of a child. Children under the age of 18 were exploited in prostitution, especially by promoters of restaurants and bars, although no statistics were available.
Child Soldiers: The government did not recruit or use child soldiers, but Boko Haram utilized child soldiers, including girls, in their attacks on civilian and military targets.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Unlike in 2015, there were no credible reports of infanticide nor of mothers abandoning their newborns in streets, latrines, or garbage cans. The law criminalizes infanticide and provides penalties ranging from five years’ imprisonment to capital punishment.
Displaced Children: The country hosted a large population of refugees and IDPs, most of whom were children. According to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix for August, there were 125,038 internally displaced children. This number excluded refugees. As in previous years, many children lived on the streets of major urban centers, although their number apparently declined as a result of stringent security measures against Boko Haram and the amended penal code that criminalizes vagrancy. The Project to Fight the Phenomenon of Street Children, a governmental project established in partnership with NGOs, continued to gather information on street children and offer health care, education, and psychological care but was hardly active.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The Jewish community was very small, and there were no known reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law does not specifically address discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services. The constitution, however, explicitly forbids all forms of discrimination, providing that “everyone has equal rights and obligations.” In 2010 the government enacted a law on the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities, but the president had not issued its instrument of implementation. In addition the country had not ratified international instruments such as the UN Convention on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities. The law requires new government and private buildings be designed to facilitate access by persons with disabilities and that existing buildings be modified to do so. Secondary public education is tuition free for persons with disabilities and children born of parents with disabilities, and initial vocational training, medical treatment, and employment must be provided “when possible,” and public assistance “when needed.”
The majority of children with disabilities attended schools. Some of these children attended mainstream schools, others attended specialized schools, including for children with vision, hearing, or physical disabilities. The Ministry of Basic Education started the 2016/17 school year by selecting 68 primary schools as pilot sites to implement inclusive education.
A private training institution, Shilo Special Education and Inclusive Bilingual Teacher Training Institute, which opened in 2014, continued training activities. As in 2015, the school accepted students with vision and other disabilities. In addition, the Ministry of Social Affairs has successfully partnered with NGOs, including Nicky’s Foundation, a Baptist organization that works with persons with hearing disabilities and provides sign language training to teachers. The ministry also partnered with Sightsavers, an international organization, which worked in the Far North, South, and Southwest Regions.
The population consists of an estimated 286 ethnic groups, among which there were frequent and credible allegations of discrimination. Ethnic groups commonly gave preferential treatment to fellow ethnic group members in business and social practices. Members of the president’s Beti/Bulu ethnic group from the south held key positions and were disproportionately represented in the government, state-owned businesses, security forces, and the CPDM.
An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Baka, including Bakola and Bagyeli, resided primarily in (and were the earliest known inhabitants of) the forested areas of the South and East. No legal discrimination existed, but other groups often treated the Baka as inferior and sometimes subjected them to unfair and exploitative labor practices. There were credible reports the Mbororos, itinerant pastoralists mostly present in the North, East, Adamawa, and Northwest Regions, were subject to harassment, sometimes with the complicity of administrative or judicial authorities, and were involved in conflicts over ownership of land and access to water.
The government did not effectively protect the civil or political rights of either group, but it implemented initiatives to promote the rights of the Baka, including the National Plan for the Empowerment of the Baka, and the Mbororo. Programs included training Baka and Mbororo in agricultural and animal husbandry techniques, including follow-on support for projects initiated after training, and recruiting Baka and Mbororo to attend teacher-training colleges. Baka and Mbororo communities complained about being marginalized, forcibly removed from their ancestral lands, and denied access to water.
The government continued efforts begun in 2005 to provide birth certificates and national identity cards to Baka. Most Baka did not have these documents, and efforts to reach them were impeded by the difficulty in accessing their homes deep in the forest.
To improve access for Baka children to education, UNICEF and the Ministry of Basic Education introduced an education model that takes into account the sociocultural specifics of minorities. They selected 12 schools to experiment with intercultural and multilingual education, in which the language of instruction is the mother tongue up to a certain level and then changes to the normal curriculum. The project was planned to run until 2017.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Homosexuality remained a crime. Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($34-$340).
Although reports of arrests dropped dramatically, homophobia remained a major concern. Members of the LGBTI community continued to receive anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and e-mail, as well as social stigmatization, harassment, and discrimination, including threats of corrective rape, although they were increasingly reluctant to speak out. Both police and civilians reportedly continued to extort money from presumed LGBTI individuals by threatening to expose them.
For example, on June 1, human rights organizations reported management of the Real Estate Company of Cameroon ordered Franz Mananga, the executive director of Alternatives Cameroon, to vacate his apartment rented from the real estate company because his neighbors had brought a complaint against him for homosexuality.
Members of the LGBTI community allegedly suffered discriminatory treatment during a workshop held in Ambam, South Region, on September 1-4. The workshop was intended to train representatives of grassroots grantee organizations on the new funding model under the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. During the happy hour on the second day, hotel staff members discovered that gay men were involved. Thereafter, hotel staff members stopped replacing towels in all hotel rooms and reduced the quality of meals.
Despite the cultural environment, human rights and health organizations continued to advocate for the LGBTI community by defending LGBTI individuals being prosecuted, promoting HIV/AIDS initiatives, and working to change laws prohibiting consensual same-sex activity.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Persons afflicted with HIV or AIDS often suffered social discrimination and were isolated from their families and society due to social stigma and lack of education about the disease. In the 2011 Demographic and Health Survey, 88 percent of women and 81.3 percent of men reported having discriminatory attitudes towards those with HIV. Between October 2010 and February 2011, Reseau Camerounais des Associations de Personnes Vivant avec le VIH (ReCAP+), a network of persons with HIV, conducted a survey of 1,284 persons with HIV. The survey indicated that in the 12 months preceding the study, 68.7 percent of respondents experienced at least one form of stigma and discrimination; 25.9 percent had been forced to change residence or were unable to secure rental accommodation; 22.6 percent of respondents who were employed lost their job or other income source; 6.7 percent were refused employment because of their HIV status; and 9.8 percent reported changes in their job responsibilities or being refused a career promotion due to their HIV-positive status. Two percent of respondents reported being denied health services, including dental care; 3.3 percent reported having been refused family planning services; and 5 percent reported being refused sexual and reproductive health services. During the preceding 12 months, 2.3 percent of respondents had been dismissed, suspended, or prevented from attending an educational institution because of their HIV status.
During the year there were a few reports of discrimination in employment. For instance, according to a credible NGO, the director of Societe de Production des Legumes (PROLEG), an agribusiness entity based in Bandjoun, West Region, terminated one of his employees because of his HIV status. Every year the director of PROLEG requires staff members to produce their HIV-status report. He allegedly terminated the worker after 27 years of service when the worker tested positive.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were a few reports of security forces failing to prevent or to respond immediately to societal violence. Several cases of vigilante action were recorded. For example, on May 4, according to newspaper reports, a bicycle rider and his colleagues entered Njo Njo cemetery in Bonapriso, Douala, where three suspects attempted to steal his bicycle. They caught one of the suspects and beat him to death. In another case, on May 7, in Bamenda, Northwest Region, residents discovered a burned body. Beside it they found a stone that was used to stun the victim and ash and debris from a tire the assailants used to burn him. According to reports, the incident occurred on the night of May 6-7, when the unidentified victim was caught attempting to steal a motorcycle.
On July 1, in Kumbo, Northwest Region, persons burned the feet of Ndzenyuy Ziawou and Nfor Arunna, two 13-year-old pupils of Islamic primary school Taakov, for allegedly stealing a woman’s cell phone battery. Asana, the owner of the battery, allegedly called her husband and friends to discipline the children. They put the children on chairs with hands tied behind their backs and their feet tied to sticks fastened by the fireside. Using grass and firewood, they roasted the children’s feet and abandoned them by a vacant building, where the children spent the night unattended. Hours after the severe abuse, Asana found the battery in her bedroom. The Justice and Peace Commission in Kumbo filed a complaint with the gendarmerie, which arrested five suspects and referred the matter to the Bui high court in Kumbo. The investigating magistrate opened preliminary proceedings on September 15, and the court delivered its verdict early December, sentencing two of the accused to one-year prison terms each. The other three suspects were expected in court on January 9, 2017.