CAMEROON (Tier 2)

The Government of Cameroon does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.  The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Cameroon was upgraded to Tier 2.  These efforts included identifying more trafficking victims and providing services to victims.  The government increased training for government officials on anti-trafficking law enforcement techniques and victim identification, and it increased international cooperation on cross-border trafficking investigations.  The government incorporated survivor input into the drafting process of a new NAP.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  The government investigated fewer trafficking crimes and prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers.  Protection services for victims remained limited.  The government did not amend its anti-trafficking law to remove the requirement of force, fraud, or coercion for child sex trafficking and to clearly distinguish between trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling crimes.  Despite serious and sustained concerns of official complicity in trafficking crimes, the government did not report any law enforcement action against allegedly complicit officials.

  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, including of complicit officials, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms. 
  • Amend the anti-trafficking law to remove the requirement of force, fraud, or coercion for child sex trafficking offenses and to make a clear distinction between human trafficking and migrant smuggling. 
  • Strengthen protection services for trafficking victims, including by providing specialized services to trafficking victims and providing funding or in-kind assistance to NGOs and international organizations providing services.
  • Finalize an updated NAP and allocate resources devoted to its implementation. 
  • Implement a systemic victim-witness assistance program to increase protective services for victims participating in the criminal justice process and prevent re-traumatization. 
  • Train social workers, law enforcement, labor inspectors, and immigration officials on identifying trafficking cases, including the difference between human trafficking and migrant smuggling, as well as on victim identification and referral SOPs. 
  • Further expand training for law enforcement and judicial officials on the anti-trafficking section of the penal code to increase the effectiveness of investigations and prosecutions. 
  • Increase funding allocated for anti-trafficking activities, including inter-ministerial committee (IMC) operations. 
  • Expand the investigation of labor recruiters and agencies suspected of fraudulent recruitment, including unlicensed recruiters and intermediaries, and hold persons complicit in trafficking criminally accountable. 
  • Continue to develop a robust and comprehensive data collection system, disaggregating between sex and labor trafficking cases to capture government-wide anti-trafficking efforts.

The government made marginal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts.  The 2011 anti-trafficking law criminalized some forms of sex trafficking and all forms of labor trafficking.  Inconsistent with international law, Cameroon’s legal framework continued to require a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking crime, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking.  The law prescribed penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 to 1 million Central African francs (CFA) ($81 to $1,630), which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to some forms of sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.  If the trafficking crime involved a victim who was 15 years old or younger, the penalties increased to 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 to 10 million CFA ($163 to $16,290).  The law prescribed separate penalties for debt bondage, which ranged from five to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 to 500,000 CFA ($16 to $815) and were also sufficiently stringent.  The law was published in French and English, the two official languages of the government.  The English version conflated trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling crimes by referring to trafficking in persons crimes, as defined under international law, as “slavery in persons,” while referring to smuggling-related offenses as “trafficking in persons.”  Increasing the potential for conflating migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons, Article 342-1 of Cameroon’s 2016 Penal Code prohibited both “trafficking in persons” and “slavery in persons.”  Legislation drafted in 2012 to address victim and witness protection and correct inconsistencies with international law remained pending for the tenth consecutive year.

Although law enforcement officials investigated and prosecuted trafficking crimes, the government did not maintain a centralized law enforcement data collection system on trafficking crimes, hindering its ability to disaggregate national human trafficking statistics, and likely resulting in underreported anti-trafficking statistics.  The government investigated 44 cases (four for sex trafficking, 30 for labor trafficking, and 10 for unspecified forms of trafficking) and continued investigations of two cases from the previous reporting period.  This compared with 93 cases investigated in 2021.  The government reported initiating prosecutions of 19 alleged traffickers (five for sex trafficking and 14 for unspecified forms of trafficking) and continued the prosecution of one case from the previous reporting period.  This compared with prosecuting 57 alleged traffickers in 2021.  Courts convicted three traffickers, including two traffickers sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 500,000 CFA ($815) each under Section 342 (1) of the Penal Code and one trafficker sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment under the penal code statutes for rape and aggravating circumstances (Sections 296 and 298).  This compared with 19 convictions under Section 342 (1) in 2021, with sentencing for all 12 convicted traffickers to prison time ranging from 18 months to 15 years.  The government continued to limit resources dedicated for anti-trafficking efforts because of the pandemic.  In addition, ongoing insecurity in the Far North Region, as well as armed violence in the Northwest and Southwest regions, continued to impede law enforcement’s ability to comprehensively investigate trafficking crimes.  Officials reported some potential cases did not move forward to prosecution because victims often chose not to participate in court proceedings due to the lack of available victim-witness assistance and fear of reprisal.  Due to the lack of protections and the protracted nature of criminal justice proceedings, some victims chose to settle potential trafficking cases outside the formal court system.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action.  The government did not report efforts to investigate prior allegations of government security forces sexually exploiting women in the Southwest Region or forcibly recruiting community members in the Far North Region to stand watch against Boko Haram incursions.  In June 2021, the Department of State suspended for five years the A-3 visa sponsorship privileges afforded to Cameroon bilateral mission members because the government declined to waive diplomatic immunity for U.S.  criminal proceedings involving mistreatment of a domestic worker and has not initiated its own prosecution.  Between 2017 and 2019, a Cameroonian diplomat posted in the United States engaged in alleged criminal violations related to human trafficking.  Because of diplomatic immunity, the United States could not commence prosecution, and the Government of Cameroon declined to waive immunity to allow the case to proceed.  The government did not report taking any action to hold the diplomat accountable for the third consecutive year.  The diplomat left the United States in 2021.  Additionally, between 2015 and 2017, a Cameroonian diplomat posted in the United States allegedly engaged in visa fraud related to a minor domestic worker.  Because of diplomatic immunity, the United States could not commence prosecution, nor did the government report taking any action for the sixth consecutive year to hold the diplomat accountable.  The diplomat left the United States in 2018.

The government, in partnership with civil society, trained more than 800 gendarmerie officers, security forces, magistrates, and lawyers on various topics, including anti-trafficking laws, trafficking investigations, and victim identification and referral.  Officials collaborated with the Governments of Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria on cross-border human trafficking investigations.

The government slightly increased victim protection efforts.  Although the government did not maintain comprehensive statistics, officials reported identifying 12 confirmed trafficking victims and an additional 23 potential trafficking victims.  This compared with zero identified victims and 90 potential trafficking victims identified in 2021.  Of the 12 victims confirmed to be trafficking victims, traffickers exploited six in sex trafficking and six in labor trafficking; six were adult women, and six were children (four boys and two girls); nine were Cameroonian nationals, and three were foreign nationals from Vietnam.  The government intercepted the 23 potential victims from Chad at the airport; the Ministry of Social Affairs (MINAS) provided care for three months and, in partnership with an international organization, the government repatriated the potential victims back to Chad.  In addition to victims identified by the government, NGOs reported identifying and assisting at least 201 victims.  The government continued to implement its victim identification and referral SOPs, but it did not report whether the SOPs were consistently used.  The government reported proactively screening vulnerable populations, particularly migrant workers traveling through airports, for trafficking indicators and continued to maintain anti-trafficking units at Yaoundé and Douala’s international airports.

The government reported providing assistance to 32 trafficking victims, including shelter, basic needs, psycho-social support, health care, and family reunification assistance, at six MINAS-run social centers in Yaoundé, Douala, and Betamba.  The government did not report how many potential victims received services in 2021.  MINAS had the authority to admit children subjected to abuse – including trafficking victims – to government institutions for vulnerable children, which offered shelter, food, medical as well as psychological care, education, vocational training, and family tracing.  The government continued to provide some support, including building costs, to NGO-funded centers that provided care to trafficking victims.  The government also provided subsidies to MINAS-partnered organizations that provided temporary shelter to trafficking survivors, children, and women.  In addition, MINAS provided consular and legal assistance to 1,500 Cameroonians, which may have included potential trafficking victims returning from Equatorial Guinea by providing travel documents and facilitating their return to their home communities.  Despite these available services, the government continued to lack sufficient resources to adequately protect trafficking victims.  The government initiated negotiations on bilateral labor agreements with Gulf states to facilitate the repatriation of Cameroonian trafficking victims exploited abroad.

Due to the limited use of the victim identification procedures and understanding of the crime among officials, authorities may have detained or deported some unidentified victims.  The government did not have a formal policy to provide victim-witness assistance to victims participating in investigations and prosecutions and did not provide victim-witness assistance to any victims cooperating with trafficking investigations, despite reports indicating traffickers often threatened victims during trials.  Victims could obtain restitution from convicted traffickers through criminal proceedings or seek damages through civil suits; however, the government did not report whether courts awarded any restitution during the reporting period.  The government could grant temporary residency status to foreign victims who, if deported, may face hardship or retribution; however, it did not report providing this accommodation during the reporting period.

The government increased prevention efforts.  The IMC continued to lead the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and convened at least twice during the reporting period.  In February 2023, the prime minister signed two separate orders to establish regional anti-trafficking committees in all 10 regions and develop a national platform to enhance coordination and improve information sharing among government ministries and civil society.  The government continued to implement its 2021-2024 NAP.  The government also began drafting an updated NAP, and the IMC sought input from local NGOs and trafficking survivors during the drafting process.  The IMC organized awareness-raising activities in schools for students, teachers, and administrative staff and reported providing in-kind and financial resources to NGO-run awareness campaigns.  MINAS continued to operate a trafficking-specific hotline; the government did not report if any victims were identified or if cases were referred to law enforcement.  The Cameroon Human Rights Commission and the gendarmerie also operated hotlines to report human rights violations and abuses, including human trafficking.

The government did not effectively regulate foreign labor recruiters or report taking measures to hold fraudulent labor recruiters accountable.  The government did not report auditing any companies or private labor placement offices, compared with 60 audits that led to an unspecified number of suspensions and closures in the previous reporting period.  Observers reported Cameroonians frequently used unauthorized recruiters to seek employment abroad, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking.  The National Social Insurance Fund (NSIF) launched a national campaign to formally register domestic workers and identify situations of potential exploitation.  Through the program, NSIF conducted home visits to ensure registration of domestic workers for tax withholding and unemployment insurance to prevent non-payment of wages and reduce vulnerabilities to labor trafficking; however, authorities did not report identifying any potential cases of exploitation or efforts to hold employers with unregistered employees accountable.

The government, in partnership with an international organization, started a pilot project issuing biometric identification cards to displaced persons, including refugee women from the Central African Republic (CAR) vulnerable to trafficking, in Lom-et-Djerem.  The lack of birth certificates increased the vulnerability of individuals to trafficking.  A previous report estimated at least 1.6 million children enrolled in schools did not have birth certificates.  An NGO attributed the lack of birth certificates to internal and external problems faced by the government such as poor record keeping, staff shortage, and the violence and insecurity in the Northwest and Southwest regions.  The government reported conducting three months of pre-deployment anti-trafficking training to its troops prior to their deployment as peacekeepers.  The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.  The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Cameroon, and traffickers exploit victims from Cameroon abroad.  According to a 2022 government study, traffickers use the Gulf of Guinea to transport Cameroonian children to Côte d’Ivoire and exploit them in labor trafficking in cocoa farming.  Traffickers also bring Malian, Burkinabe, Beninese, or Togolese children to Cameroon via the Gulf of Guinea and exploit them in labor trafficking on farms in the North, West, and Northwest regions of Cameroon.  High unemployment rates and economic uncertainty continued to drive many, especially women, to contemplate economic migration under questionable circumstances, leaving them vulnerable to traffickers.  Government officials, NGO representatives, and media outlets report more than one million IDPs face an increased risk of human trafficking due to insecurity in some regions, a diminished police and judicial presence, and deteriorated economic and educational conditions.  The four years of intermittent school closures in the Northwest and Southwest regions have resulted in some parents sending their children to stay with intermediaries who, instead of providing education and safety, exploit the children in domestic servitude.

Observers report vulnerable populations such as orphans, persons with disabilities, victims of GBV, and the marginalized Bororos minority community in Bali Nyonga remained at risk of trafficking.  Avenue Kennedy in Yaoundé remains a gathering point for children who use the streets as a source of livelihood; traffickers may exploit this population in human trafficking.  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 or labor trafficking; parents may play an active role early in the process because of their desire to remove children from areas impacted by violence.  Criminals coerce women, IDPs, children experiencing homelessness, and orphans into sex and labor trafficking throughout the country.  Some labor recruiters lure children from economically disadvantaged families to cities with the prospect of employment and then exploit victims in sex or labor trafficking.  Traffickers exploit children in labor trafficking in domestic service, agriculture (onion, cotton, tea, and cocoa plantations), restaurants, street vending, and forced begging.  A 2022 government study reported criminals transport children through Cameroon en route to Gabon, where traffickers exploit them in domestic servitude.  Media reporting indicates labor trafficking in Cameroon’s fishing sector is widespread.

Past research reports highlighted Kribi and Douala as two destinations for child sex trafficking, primarily perpetrated by nationals of Belgium, Chad, France, Germany, Nigeria, Switzerland, and Uganda.  Criminals exploited Cameroonians in sex and labor trafficking in the Bonaberi neighborhood in Douala – which hosts hundreds of IDPs.  Foreign business owners and herders force children from neighboring countries, including Benin, CAR, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, and Nigeria, to labor in spare parts shops or cattle grazing in northern Cameroon; many traffickers share the nationality of their victims.  Observers reported officials from the Republic of Türkiye and the People’s Republic of China in Cameroon may unwittingly 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.

International Organizations reported there were 1,013,568 IDPs in Cameroon as of March 2023, an increase from 933,000 reported in 2022.  In addition to IDPs, there were approximately 488,010 refugees and asylum seekers in the country as of April 2023.  Traffickers may exploit IDPs and refugees because of 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.

Pandemic-related border closures from March 2020 to June 2021 likely reduced the scale of transnational exploitation, according to experts.  However, ongoing economic impacts of the pandemic, combined with ongoing violence in the Northwest and Southwest regions, contributed to a sharp increase in the number of victims exploited domestically.  Observers previously reported government security forces engaged in commercial sex with women in the Southwest Region divisions of Ndian, Buea, Ekona, and Muyuka, using food insecurity and their authority as leverage.  Observers reported Boko Haram continued to forcibly recruit and use child soldiers, including girls, in its attacks on civilian and military targets in the northern part of the country.  Some community neighborhood watch groups, known as vigilance committees, may also use and recruit children in operations against Boko Haram and other non-state armed groups.  Anglophone separatists recruited and used child soldiers in the Southwest and Northwest regions in combat roles and to gather intelligence, according to observers.

Traffickers exploit Cameroonians from disadvantaged social strata, in particular from rural areas, in sex and labor trafficking in the Middle East (especially Kuwait and Lebanon), Thailand, Europe (including Switzerland and Cyprus), the United States, and other African countries (including Benin and Nigeria).  Most Cameroonians exploited abroad are between the ages of 20 and 38 and come from the Northwest, Southwest, Littoral, Center, South, and West regions.  Fraudulent labor brokers recruit some Cameroonian women for domestic work in the Middle East, where traffickers exploit them in sex trafficking or domestic servitude.  In past years, NGOs have reported Nigerians in the eastern states of Nigeria exploited Cameroonian refugees displaced by the crisis in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions in sex and labor trafficking.

Trafficking networks generally include local community members, including religious leaders and trafficking victims who have become perpetrators.  These networks advertise jobs through the internet, as well as other media, and recruit and sell other Cameroonians directly to families in need of domestic workers.  Traffickers use the internet to recruit victims through fake websites, highlighting opportunities in trades such as the fashion industry, modeling, entertainment, education, and information technology.  Advocates report intermediaries often operate with discretion, 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 sex trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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