Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women and provides penalties of between five and 10 years of imprisonment for convicted rapists. Police and courts, however, rarely investigated or prosecuted rape cases, especially since victims often did not report them. The law does not address spousal rape.
The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, although assault is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment and fines.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law protects the bodily integrity of persons, and the 2016 penal code prohibits genital mutilation of all persons. Whoever mutilates the genitals of another person is subject to a prison sentence of from 10 to 20 years, or imprisonment for life if the offender habitually carries out this practice for commercial purposes or the practice causes death. FMG/C remained a problem, but its prevalence remained low. As in the previous year, children were reportedly subjected to FGM/C in isolated areas of the Far North, East, and Southwest Regions and among the Choa and Ejagham ethnic groups.
According to the Minister of Women’s Empowerment and the Family, the government fully adopted a UN General Assembly resolution on the intensification of the global action aimed at eliminating FGM/C. For more than 10 years, the government has carried out initiatives to end FGM/C. These include granting support for the socioeconomic reconversion of male and female excision practitioners and creating local committees to fight against the phenomenon in areas of high prevalence, such as the Southwest and Northern Regions.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Widows were sometimes forcibly married to one of their deceased husband’s relatives to secure continued use of property left by the husband, including the marital home. To protect women better, including widows, the government included provisions in the 2016 penal code outlawing the eviction of a spouse from the marital home by any person other than the other spouse.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Offenders can be imprisoned for periods of six months to one year and may be fined between 100,000 and one million CFA francs ($170 and $1,700). If the victim is a minor, the penalty can be between one to three years in prison. If the offender is the victim’s teacher, they may be sentenced to between three and five years in prison. Despite these legal provisions, sexual harassment was widespread, and there were no reports that anyone was fined or imprisoned for sexual harassment.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men; in practice, however, women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. Although local government officials including mayors claimed women had access to land in their constituencies, the overall sociocultural practice of denying women the right to own land, especially through inheritance, was prevalent in most regions. The government did not implement any official discriminatory policy against women in such areas as divorce, child custody, employment, credit, pay, owing or managing business or property, education, the judicial process, and housing. Although women and men have equal employment rights, fewer women occupied positions of responsibility. Furthermore, anecdotal reports suggest some gender discrimination occurred in places of employment, especially in the private sector.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship through their parents, and the responsibility to register birth falls upon parents. Many births go unregistered because children are not always born in health facilities, and many parents face challenges in reaching local government offices.
Education: The law provides for tuition-free compulsory primary education but does not set an age limit. The law punishes any parent with sufficient means who refuses to send his or her child to school with a fine between 50,000 to 500,000 CFA francs ($85 and $850). The punishment is imprisonment from one to two years in cases in which the offense is repeated. Children were generally expected to complete primary education at age 12. Secondary school students had to pay tuition and other fees in addition to buying uniforms and books. This rendered secondary education unaffordable for many children.
During the year numerous separatist attacks on the education sector in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, including arson attacks on school facilities and physical assaults on administrative staff, faculty and students, disrupted the normal operation of schools. Many students and teachers were absent during the 2017-18 school year. According to estimates by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 42,500 children were still out of school as of May.
In June, UNICEF reported that at least 58 schools in the Northwest and Southwest
Regions had been damaged since the beginning of the crisis in 2016. Human Rights Watch documented 19 threats or attacks on schools and 10 threats or attacks on education personnel.
In September individuals believed to be Anglophone separatists perpetrated a series of attacks aimed at disrupting the start of the 2018-19 school year in certain localities of the Northwest and Southwest Regions. During the night of September 1, the headmaster of the Bamali primary school in Ngoketunjia Division in the Northwest Region was killed. On September 3, separatists abducted six students from the Presbyterian Girls Secondary School in Bafut, Mezam Division in the Northwest Region, along with their principal. They later released the students and principal, who had been subjected to torture. On September 4, a dozen individuals stormed a high school in Kumbo, Bui Division, in the Northwest Region and vandalized the administrative building, forcing teachers and students to run for safety. On the same day, St Joseph’s Secondary School in Fako Division in the Southwest Region was attacked.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits various forms of child abuse, including but not limited to assault, indecency, kidnapping, forced labor, rape, sexual harassment, and cloud on parentage, which refers to a situation where one parent refuses to disclose the identity of the other parent to the child. Penalties for the offenses range from 10,000 CFA francs ($17) for forced labor to imprisonment for life in the case of assault leading to death or grievous harm. Despite these legal provisions, child abuse remained a problem. Children continued to suffer corporal punishment, both within families and at school. In addition Boko Haram continued to abduct children and used them as suicide bombers. Press reports cited cases of child rape and the kidnapping of children for ransom. In its April 20 edition, Mutation Daily reported that Reseau National des Associations de Tantines (RENATA), an association working with girls who have become mothers due to early pregnancy, had received 18 reports of sexual abuse of minors since January.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18. Despite the law, according to UNICEF’s March 2018 child marriage data, 31 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18, and of these, 10 percent were married before they turned 15. The law punishes anyone who compels an individual to marry with imprisonment of from five to 10 years, and with fines between 25,000 and one million CFA francs ($42.50 to $1,700). By law mitigating circumstances may result in a reduction in punishment, but the final penalty may not be less than a two-year prison sentence. The court may also take custody from parents who give away their underage children in marriage. Despite these legal provisions, a number of families reportedly tried to marry off their girls before age 18. To tackle the issue, the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Family (MINPROFF) organized sensitization campaigns to warn of the problems of early and forced marriages. MINPROFF conducted these campaigns nationally around major commemorative days, such as the International Day of the Girl Child and International Women’s Day. At the local level, MINPROFF established women’s empowerment centers in most divisions where grassroots sensitization activities took place.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography. A conviction, however, requires proof of a threat, fraud, deception, force, or other forms of coercion. Penalties include imprisonment of between 10 and 20 years and a fine of between 100,000 and 10 million CFA francs ($170 to $17,000). The law does not specifically provide a minimum age for consensual sex. According to anecdotal reports, children younger than age 18 were exploited in commercial sex, especially by restaurant and bar promoters, although no statistics were available.
Child Soldiers: The government did not recruit or use child soldiers, but government-affiliated civil defense forces employed child soldiers. Boko Haram continued to use child soldiers, including girls, in its attacks on civilian and military targets. There were also some reports that Anglophone separatists in the Southwest and Northwest Regions used children to combat government defense and security forces. In presenting the government humanitarian emergency action plan in July, the prime minister stated that separatists were recruiting children into their ranks and forcing them to fight after consuming drugs and undergoing cultlike rituals.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: There were no reports of infanticide of children with disabilities. According to human rights activists and media outlets, including newspapers Le Messager, Mutations, and Nouvelle Expression, local residents found the head of a decapitated child in a garbage bin on August 27 in the Yaounde neighborhood of Mvog Ebanda, commonly known as “Eleveur.” Investigations led to the identification of the mother of the child as the perpetrator of the crime.
Displaced Children: Many displaced children continued to live on the streets of major urban centers, although the trend was in decline as a result of stringent security measures and the amended penal code that criminalizes vagrancy. According to the International Organization for Migration, approximately 65 percent of IDPs in Far North Region were children younger than 18. These children faced many challenges, including limited access to school, health, and protection. In addition thousands of children were negatively impacted by the humanitarian crisis in the Northwest and Southwest. These children faced significant violations of their rights by armed forces and nonstate armed actors alike. The government had not established structures to ensure that internally displaced children were protected from forceful recruitment by nonstate armed groups and terrorist organizations.
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 https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International–Parental–ChildAbduction/for–providers/legal–reports–and–data.html.
The Jewish community was very small, and there were no known reports of antiSemitic 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 constitution protects the rights of all persons, including persons with disabilities. A 2010 law provides additional protection to persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The protections under the law cover access to education and vocational training, employment, health services, information and cultural activities, communications, buildings, sports and leisure, transportation, housing, and other state services. Public education is tuition-free for persons with disabilities and children born of parents with disabilities. Initial vocational training, medical treatment, and employment must be provided “when possible,” and public assistance “when needed.” The government did not enforce all these provisions effectively in the past. On July 26, the prime minister issued a decree spelling out a framework for implementing the 2010 law.
There were no reports of police or other government officials inciting, perpetrating, or condoning violence against persons with disabilities during the reporting period. The majority of children with disabilities attended school with nondisabled peers. The government introduced inclusive education in many schools and reviewed the curriculum of teacher training colleges to include training in inclusive education skills. Other children with disabilities continued to attend specialized schools such as the Bulu Blind Center in Buea and the Yaounde Special School for Hearing Impaired Children (ESEDA).
The population consists of more than 275 ethnic groups. Members of the president’s Beti/Bulu ethnic group from the South Region held many key positions and were disproportionately represented in the government, state-owned businesses, and security forces.
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 Regions. The government did not effectively protect the civil or political rights of either group. Logging companies continued to destroy their naturally forested land without compensation. Other ethnic groups often treated the Baka as inferior and sometimes subjected them to unfair and exploitative labor practices. The government continued long-standing efforts 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.
There were credible reports from NGOs that the Mbororo, itinerant pastoralists living mostly in the North, East, Adamawa, and Northwest Regions, were subject to harassment, sometimes with the complicity of administrative or judicial authorities.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Consensual same-sex sexual activity, including between adults, is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence lasting between six months and five years and a fine ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($34 to $340).
LGBTI rights organizations such as the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS
(CAMFAIDS), Humanity First Cameroon, Alternatives Cameroon, National Observatory of the Rights of LGBTI Persons and Their Defenders, and others reported several arrests of LGBTI persons. LGBTI individuals received anonymous threats by telephone, text message, and email, including of “corrective” rape, but authorities did not investigate allegations of harassment. Civil society members stated there were also cases where LGBTI individuals underwent corrective rape, sometimes through the facilitation of the victim’s own family. Police were generally unresponsive to requests to increase protection for lawyers who received threats because they represented LGBTI persons. Both police and civilians reportedly continued to extort money from presumed LGBTI individuals by threatening to expose them.
The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. The constitution provides for equal rights for all citizens. In practice, however, security forces sometimes harassed persons on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, including individuals found with condoms and lubricants. This practice and the fear it generated in turn restricted access to HIV/AIDS services. Anecdotal reports also suggested some discrimination occurred in places of employment with respect to sexual orientation.
In an April 25 release, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights
Defenders, in partnership with the World Organization against Torture and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), denounced the arrest and arbitrary detention of five staff members of the association Avenir Jeune de l’Ouest (AJO). AJO promoted the rights of LGBTI persons with HIV and sex workers in the West Region. According to the release, men in civilian clothing from the territorial police, on April 20, arrested the executive director and two other members of AJO, including a care worker, as they were leaving the organization’s premises. On April 21, two additional care workers from the organization were arrested at their places of residence. Police did not have warrants and took the five members of AJO to the Dschang central police station, where they experienced poor detention conditions on charges related to consensual same-sex conduct. In connection with this incident, 18 other men were arrested. For the first time in many years, authorities in the West Region introduced the prospect of forced anal exams for the 23 arrestees. The men were ordered to undergo such exams, but after intense advocacy by the lawyer representing the men, together with diplomatic pressure, the matter was dropped. The men did not have access to their lawyers until April 24.
In a midterm report covering the period from January to May, Alternatives Cameroon recorded 64 cases of violence against LGBTI individuals, including three cases of arbitrary detention, 30 cases of psychological violence, one case of sexual violence, 18 cases of physical violence, and 12 cases of blackmail and extortion.
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 on the disease.
As in the previous year, while there were no specific cases of discrimination to highlight in employment, anecdotal reports indicated some discrimination occurred with respect to HIV status, especially in the private sector.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Several cases of vigilante action and other attacks were reported during the year. Several arson attacks were recorded, involving the destruction of both public and private property. On January 21, in Nkambe, in the Donga and Mantung Division of Northwest Region, unidentified men set the dormitory section of St Rita’s Secondary School on fire after the management defied the school boycott called for by separatists in the Anglophone regions.
On April 28, on the outskirts of Muyuka, Southwest Region, three gunmen on motorbikes shot and killed Sophie Mandengue Maloba, a pregnant schoolteacher. The incident occurred three days after a similar attack on a school in Kumba took place where assailants riding motorcycles shot and killed the discipline master of the government bilingual high school and chopped off three fingers of a student.
The October presidential election triggered a wave of ethnic-tinged hate speech on social media after Cameroon Renaissance Movement candidate Maurice Kamto prematurely announced he won the election. These attacks mostly split along tribal lines, with Kamto’s Bamileke and President Biya’s Beti ethnic groups the primary targets.
The law provides for sentences of between two and 10 years’ imprisonment and fines of between 5,000 and 100,000 CFA francs ($8.50 and $170) for witchcraft. There were no reported arrests or trials for alleged witchcraft reported during the year.