Cameroon is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Cameroon is a source country for men in forced labor. Trafficking operations usually target two to four children, often when rural parents hand over their children to an intermediary promising an education or a better life in the city. Traffickers of children increasingly resort to kidnapping their victims, as heightened public awareness about trafficking has led to parents being less willing to give their children to these intermediaries. Cameroonian children are exploited in many sectors, such as domestic service; restaurants; street begging or vending; artisanal gold mining and gravel quarries; agriculture, including on tea and cocoa plantations; in the urban transportation and construction sectors, where they perform odd jobs as errand boys and laborers on construction sites; and in prostitution within the country. Reports indicate the existence of hereditary slavery in northern chiefdoms. Cameroonian women are lured to Europe and other regions by fraudulent internet marriage proposals or offers of domestic work and subsequently become victims of forced labor or forced prostitution in Switzerland and France, with smaller numbers in Russia. In 2013, a group of approximately 35 Cameroonian men were exploited in forced labor in forestry work in Sweden; most were granted temporary residency permits during the investigation. During the year, Cameroonian trafficking victims were also identified in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Cyprus, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Haiti, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and several West and Central African countries. Some teenagers and adults from the Central African Republic (CAR) and Nigeria are lured by the prospect of a better life in Cameroon and subsequently became victims of labor trafficking.
The Government of Cameroon does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, the government continued to implement activities associated with an action plan to combat trafficking, including enforcing the anti-trafficking law, providing training to government officials and NGOs, reintegrating street children who were trafficking victims, and conducting public awareness campaigns. Despite these efforts, the government did not make progress in ensuring trafficking victims received access to protection services. Data collection remained sporadic and did not cover the entire country, resulting in unreliable and incomplete statistics on victim identification and law enforcement.
Recommendations for Cameroon:
Vigorously prosecute and convict trafficking offenders, including government employees complicit in trafficking-related offenses; continue to educate police, judges, lawyers, and social workers about the law against human trafficking; develop and provide advanced training for law enforcement in investigation and prosecution of human trafficking offenses; dedicate resources to improve the collection of statistics relating to victim identification and law enforcement; develop standardized procedures for referring trafficking victims to government and NGO care services, and socialize these mechanisms among government officials and the NGO community; continue to provide training for government service providers to ensure the quality of care for victims; and address cases of hereditary servitude in the northern regions.
The Government of Cameroon sustained modest anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2011 Law Relating to the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons and Slavery prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons, and under Section 4 prescribes a penalty of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment, penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Section 5 prescribes penalties ranging from 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment if the trafficking victim is 15 years of age or younger, if violent pretexts are used to coerce the victim, or if the victim sustains serious injuries as a result of trafficking. Section 3 prescribes penalties for debt bondage ranging from five to 10 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are also sufficiently stringent. Amendments to the 2011 law drafted by the government to address shortcomings in protection of victims and witnesses were still under consideration at the end of the reporting period.
During the reporting period, the government initiated five trafficking prosecutions and secured one conviction for child trafficking. This represents a slight increase from the previous reporting period, in which the government conducted three prosecutions with no convictions. Specific information about the case resulting in a conviction was not available, but the defendant was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment. Two cases were dismissed by judges for lack of evidence, and two prosecutions remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The government failed to collect comprehensive anti-trafficking law enforcement data from all of Cameroon’s 10 regions during the reporting period. Various government and other sources indicated that 120 cases of trafficking and related offenses, including kidnapping of minors, kidnapping with fraud and violence, forced marriage, and slavery, were reported to law enforcement and NGOs in the Littoral, South West, and South regions; many of these were investigated by police, but information is not available to determine how many were cases of human trafficking.
The government organized two training sessions on human trafficking for government officials and NGOs, collaborated with international organizations and an NGO to conduct four additional training programs on trafficking, and reported that the national training sites for gendarmerie include modules on detecting human trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The Cameroonian government demonstrated modest efforts to ensure identified victims of trafficking received access to protection services. The government does not produce statistics from all regions on the number of trafficking victims identified. Information from the government and NGOs indicates that 19 trafficking victims were identified by the government, all of whom were children, ranging in age from 4 months to 16 years, a decrease from the 87 victims identified in the previous reporting period. Of these 19 victims, the government placed 13 children in government or NGO care facilities for assistance and reunited six victims with their families.
The government used an informal referral process in which local administrative authorities and the Ministry of Social Affairs (MINAS) guided security forces in referring identified victims to the appropriate government agency for assistance. The government continued to provide direct assistance to child victims, including shelter, medical assistance, psychological support, and activities related to reintegration through its shelter facilities and services for vulnerable children located in several cities. It is unclear how much funding the government devoted to victim care during 2013 or how many victims received services. Local and international NGOs provided the majority of victim services in the country, and the government has yet to institute a standardized, reliable mechanism to refer victims to these services. At ports of entry, trained customs and border security officers interrogated adults accompanying children and checked their travel documents to verify their parentage. Immigration police officials in Cameroon’s East Region reported that these procedures helped prevent potential trafficking cases involving victims moving to and from neighboring countries; however, no specific trafficking cases were reported.
The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes; however, it is unclear what assistance was provided during court proceedings. Victims may file suits or seek legal action against traffickers, and, because children are the main victims of trafficking in Cameroon, family members may also bring civil suits against traffickers on behalf of children. Some victims received financial settlements from their traffickers after filing such suits. In a case from Cameroon’s North West Region, a trafficker who forced a child to do manual labor for one year without compensation paid approximately $260 as part of a financial settlement to the victim and his family. The child subsequently returned to school. The government provided temporary resident status to five children from other countries (CAR and Nigeria) while working with international organizations and consular officials on their repatriation during the reporting period. It was not reported that the government punished any trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
The Cameroonian government demonstrated continued progress in preventing human trafficking. An inter-ministerial committee, chaired by the secretary general of the prime minister’s office and comprised of over a dozen different ministries, coordinates anti-trafficking efforts across the government. The government continued action related to its national action plan, including a targeted awareness campaign against forced labor and sex trafficking of children implemented by MINAS. In 2013, the government expanded the campaign from five regions (Center, East, Littoral, Adamawa, and Northwest) to include the Far North region, and reached 2,000 people and mobilized 500 community leaders and journalists. With support from UNICEF, the government trained 410 social workers in five regions on human trafficking as part of training on psychosocial assistance to street children. The Ministry of Employment drafted a manual for potential migrants on the dangers of trafficking, which has yet to be disseminated. MINAS continued to address the phenomenon of street children, a vulnerable population considered at high risk of becoming trafficking victims, and identified 504 new cases of street children in Yaounde and Douala, and reunited 134 children with their families, and offered reintegration services to the others during the reporting period. The government continued to provide members of the Cameroonian armed forces with training on human trafficking prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions as part of an overall briefing on international humanitarian law. The government, however, did not undertake efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.