The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. During the reporting period, the government incorporated its 2011 anti-trafficking law into the penal code as Section 342-1 “Trafficking and Slavery of Persons.” The government published the penal code in French and English, the two official languages of the government. The French version defines “trafficking in persons” (“la traite de personnes”) in line with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, whereas the English version defines “trafficking in persons” to require movement. In addition, although the English version does not define “exploitation,” its definition of “slavery in persons” does not require movement and criminalizes most forms of human trafficking. Contrary to international law, both versions require the use of threat, fraud, deception, force, or other forms of coercion in sex trafficking crimes against children. Section 342-1 prescribes penalties of 10 to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 to one million CFA francs (FCFA) ($80 $1,608) for “la traite de personnes”/“slavery in persons,” which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. There are enhanced penalties if the trafficking victim is 15 years old or younger, if a weapon is used, or if the victim sustains serious injuries as a result of being subjected to trafficking. The penalties for debt bondage—criminalized in Section 3(1) of the 2011 anti-trafficking law but not explicitly criminalized in the penal code—range from five to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 to 500,000 FCFA ($16-$804) and are also sufficiently stringent. Draft legislation to address victim and witness protection and definitional inconsistencies with international law, drafted in 2012 in collaboration with an NGO and national and international experts, remained pending for the fifth consecutive year.
The government did not collect comprehensive anti-trafficking data, resulting in unreliable and incomplete statistics on law enforcement and victim identification efforts. The government reported 13 potential trafficking investigations, 13 prosecutions, and two convictions, compared with 17 investigations, 20 prosecutions, and two convictions the previous reporting period. Several investigations involved child kidnapping for an unknown purpose, so it was unclear how many of the 13 cases were trafficking. Prosecutors initiated 11 adult and child labor trafficking prosecutions under the trafficking statute, and they were all ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Despite strong indicators of trafficking, judges convicted three defendants in two trafficking cases for non trafficking crimes. In one case, two defendants who collaborated with a Kuwaiti trafficker to send multiple Cameroonian women to Kuwait for domestic servitude were acquitted of trafficking charges but convicted on charges related to keeping victims by means of false pretenses, and one of the defendants was additionally charged with causing harm under false pretenses. The judge prescribed a sentence of one year in prison and ordered the defendants to pay court fees and damages to the victim, severely less than the minimum penalty of five years imprisonment prescribed for one of the crimes. In contrast with previous years, judges did not convict any individuals for trafficking charges. The government did not report any sex trafficking investigations.
NGOs alleged the government did not proactively investigate trafficking offenses but relied on NGOs to conduct preliminary investigations and bring cases to its attention. Due to the lack of collaboration between the government and NGOs and judicial inefficiencies, some regional courts and NGOs encouraged victims to settle trafficking cases outside of court; financial penalties without imprisonment do not provide adequate deterrence given the serious nature of the crime. The judiciary was reportedly investigating several government officials for trafficking offenses at the end of the reporting period, including a police officer and an official from the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and the Family. The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of officials complicit in trafficking offenses. Although law enforcement, judicial personnel, and other relevant officials lacked training in distinguishing human trafficking from other crimes, the government did not directly provide anti-trafficking training or grant in-kind support for trainings by other organizations. Due to the lack of training for law enforcement and judicial staff, some trafficking offenses may have been tried as child abuse or kidnapping, which carry lesser penalties.
The Ministry of External Relations (MINREX) led a delegation to Lebanon and Qatar to meet with Cameroonian trafficking victims, discuss with the host governments the rights of Cameroonian workers, and begin drafting MOUs on Cameroonian workers’ rights in each country. In addition, the Cameroonian mission in Lebanon increased collaboration with trafficking victims and the host government, and MINREX established a focal point for trafficking victims who, with NGOs, made travel arrangements to repatriate 14 Cameroonian trafficking victims from Kuwait, Lebanon, and United Arab Emirates. While the delegation formulated a list of future actions, including monitoring employment agencies, creating an agency to monitor Cameroonian workers abroad, and assisting and repatriating victims identified abroad, the government did not proactively regulate such recruiters or initiate investigations of suspicious recruitment practices. Although trafficking victims provided the government a list of alleged middlemen and illegal recruitment agencies involved in exploitation, the government did not report investigating these suspects. Despite the draft MOUs and the identification of several thousand Cameroonian trafficking victims abroad, the government did not report cooperation with foreign governments on transnational trafficking investigations.