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Child Trafficking Thriving In Cameroon Despite Law 

Cameroon is fast becoming a hub for child trafficking in Africa, as it is now ranked among top countries where the practice is rife despite law against it. According to reports, Cameroon is a source, transit and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation.

Most victims are children trafficked within the country, with girls trafficked for domestic servitude, to work as house helps, or for sexual exploitation. Also, both boys and girls are trafficked and forced to do unpaid jobs in bars, restaurants and private homes.

Despite efforts by government and NGOs, the practice still thrives, with even some parents of the victims acting as accomplices. While a law was enacted in 2005 to punish child trafficking perpetrators, little has been done to enforce it, while reports fault government for failing to punish perpetrators of the act.  While the practice had gone unchecked, it was in 2006 that undertook a series of activities to stop it.

In June 2006, the government, working in collaboration with NGOs and the International Labour Organisation, launched several activities commemorating the World Day Against Child Labour.
In September 2006, the Ministry of Social Affairs launched a campaign on 18 radio stations throughout the country to educate the public about the dangers of child exploitation.

Same year, government began recruiting 60 social workers which it intended to train by 2008 to work in its trafficking victim centres. But, presently, not much has been heard about their activities with regards to helping victims.

Meanwhile, Government has been making lame law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking. Unlike other countries, Cameroon does not prohibit all forms of trafficking, though it criminalises child trafficking and slavery through its 2005 anti-child trafficking law, which prescribes a penalty of 20 years imprisonment. On its part, a Bamenda based NGO, Global Welfare Association GLOWA, has been known to be assisting victims of trafficking, with little means. Among the highly ranked trafficking region in the country is the Northwest.

Child trafficking and exploitation in Cameroon, which is considered modern day slavery, has been traced from colonial days. People were ferried from the Northwest Province to work in plantations in the Southwest. Explaining why most children are trafficked from the Northwest, Governor Abakar Ahamat said "most people prefer children from the Northwest because they are hard working, obedient and offer cheap services". The thriving awful trade has developed and taken various forms in the Northwest because of endemic poverty.

In the light of the numerous cases of abuse, the Governor said complaisance from parents accounts for the lack of concrete statistics. He said, from January to June this year, he has been informed of only four cases. The first case involved a woman in Nkambe who was transporting some five children from Missaje in Donga Mantung Division.

She duped the parents that she will offer the children good jobs. While in Nkambe, a curious passenger informed tgendarmes on what was going on. But the lady escaped. The most recent case is that of a woman named Delphine (full names withheld) aged 28, a native from Mbessa who is resident in Bantum. She was caught on Saturday, June 19, 20l0, about to transport eight children (two boys six girls) from Mbessa, Boyo Division in the Northwest Region to Bantum, Nde Division in the West Region.

When she got to the "Amour Mezam travelling agency", she paid the transport fare but couldn’t give the names of the children to be written on the receipts. Worse still, they had no identification papers. One of the children confessed that it was the second time she was going to Bantum where she works in the farm from morning to evening.
Efforts Of The Justice And Peace Commission

Even though the penal code in sections 292, 293 punishes forced labour and slavery, many have criticised the way this law is being applied. According to the Governor of the Northwest Region, for all the known cases of child trafficking in the region, no judgment has ever been passed. Similar complaints have been put forth by different bodies and individuals involved in the fight against this ill.

The Coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Arch Diocese of Bamenda, Laura Nadin Ngwa, revealed that they have set up vigilante committees in areas where the phenomenon is rampant as well as other measures to curb the growing malpractice.
Also, the Commission organized a workshop in Buea, Southwest Region, which brought together different stakeholders in the fight against child trafficking.

Participants at the workshop that included traditional rulers, legal minds, vigilante groups and priests among others, expressed difficulties getting perpetrators punished since family relations of most victims refuse to speak out. They urged government to enforce the 2005 law. Besides organizing workshops, the Commission has begun assisting victims start up businesses, go to school and reintegrate with the families.

Despite efforts to curb child trafficking,  a 12 year old girl was seen selling around the SW governor’s office when others were in school. After questioning, it was released she lives with an aunt of hers who had brought her from her native Tombel, promising to send her to school. When she got to Buea, the story changed as she was instead made a hawker.

Contacted by Justice and Peace Commission, the aunt said she hadn’t money to buy her school needs and pay for her fees. She later said the child is not bright in school and didn’t pass her last promotion exams, an allegation which the young girl refuted. By press time, arrangements were being made to send back the child to her mother who resides in Tombel.

*(Soa Law & UB Journalism Students On Internship)

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