As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Cameroon, and traffickers exploit victims from Cameroon abroad. Government officials and NGO representatives stated the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest regions increased the risk factors of human trafficking during the reporting period due to large numbers of displaced individuals, diminished police and judicial presence, and deteriorated economic and educational conditions. Child traffickers often use the promise of education or a better life in urban areas to convince rural parents to entrust their children to intermediaries, who then exploit the children in sex trafficking or forced labor. Criminals force homeless children and orphans into sex trafficking and forced labor in urban areas. Some labor recruiters lure teenagers and adolescents from economically disadvantaged families to cities with the prospect of employment and then subject victims to labor or sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit Cameroonian children in domestic service, restaurants, and begging or vending on streets and highways. Additionally, criminal elements force Cameroonian children to labor in artisanal gold mining, gravel quarries, fishing, animal breeding, and agriculture (on onion, cotton, tea, and cocoa plantations), as well as in urban transportation assisting bus drivers and in construction as errand boys, laborers, or night watchmen. Observers note child sex tourists exploit minors in the cities of Kribi and Douala, with Ugandan, Chadian, Nigerian, Tanzanian, German, French, Swiss, and Belgian nationals primarily committing this crime.
Foreign business owners and herders force children from neighboring countries including Chad, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Benin, and Equatorial Guinea to labor in spare parts shops or cattle grazing in northern Cameroon; many traffickers share the nationality of their victims. Traffickers exploit some children transiting the country en route to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Anecdotal evidence suggests some Chinese business owners fraudulently recruit young girls to work as beauticians and subsequently exploit them in sex trafficking. Experts reported Turkish and Chinese officials in Cameroon may facilitate transnational human trafficking by granting visas to Africans with little oversight. Cameroonian banks may have assisted criminal networks involved in fraudulent recruitment by validating income and employment oversight requirements, as well as opening “ghost” bank accounts for victims to demonstrate false income levels.
Observers reported there were approximately 977,000 IDPs in Cameroon at the beginning of 2020, an increase from 437,000 in 2018. In addition to IDPs, there were approximately 408,000 refugees in the country—including those from Nigeria—as of January 31, 2020. Traffickers may prey on both IDPs and refugees due to their economic instability and sometimes-limited access to formal justice. Boko Haram’s activities on the border with Nigeria continued to displace many of these refugees. There continued to be reports of hereditary slavery in northern chiefdoms. An expert reported government security forces recruited and used a minor to gather intelligence in the country’s Anglophone regions. Some community neighborhood watch groups, known as vigilance committees, may also have used and recruited children as young as age 12 in operations against Boko Haram, although there is no evidence of the government providing material support to these specific groups. Boko Haram is a consistent terrorist threat, and continues to forcibly recruit Cameroonian children as porters, cooks, and scouts. The terrorist organization also uses women and girls as forced suicide bombers and sex slaves and boys as child soldiers. Observers reported Anglophone separatists recruited and used child soldiers in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, both for fighting government forces and for gathering intelligence.
Traffickers exploit Cameroonians from disadvantaged social strata, in particular from rural areas, in forced labor and sex trafficking in the Middle East (especially Kuwait and Lebanon), as well as in Europe (including Switzerland and Cyprus), the United States, and multiple African countries (including Benin and Nigeria). Most exploited Cameroonians abroad are between the ages of 20 and 38 and come from the Northwest, Southwest, Littoral, Center, South, and West Regions. Fraudulent labor brokers recruited some Cameroonian women for domestic work in the Middle East where traffickers then subjected the women to sex trafficking or domestic servitude upon arrival at their destination. Some economic migrants in search of opportunity became victims of trafficking in Libya or while in transit through Niger. NGOs reported Nigerians in eastern Nigeria exploited Cameroonian refugees displaced by the Anglophone conflict in forced labor and sex trafficking.
Trafficking networks generally consist of local community members, including religious leaders and former trafficking victims who have transitioned to perpetrators. These networks advertise jobs through the internet and other media, and recruit and sell other Cameroonians directly to families in need of domestic servants. Advocates working on trafficking issues report the government’s awareness-raising activities targeting fraudulent recruitment have raised awareness amongst vulnerable populations but have caused intermediaries to operate with greater discretion, often directing victims to travel to the Middle East through neighboring countries, including Nigeria. International organizations, NGOs, and migrants report Cameroonian trafficking networks in Morocco coerce women into commercial sex.