Saying No to Human Trafficking
For generations, our community has been silent about a heart wrecking practice ravishing our society. The trafficking of women and girls has become the order of the day in Cameroon as well as most parts of Africa. Everyday women and children are deprived of their rights as they are forced to leave the comfort of their homes,families and even country for forced labor or prostitution in neighboring countries or larger cities within their own countries.
Cameroon is a country of origin,transit and destination for children who are trafficked for forced labor to and from neighboring countries,such as Nigeria,Benin,the Central African republic,chad and Gabon.For example children from Nigeria,chad,and central African republic are trafficked to Cameroon and Cameroonian children trafficked to chad and Nigeria.In our community it is a common and daily reality.
One day while visiting a friend in Douala,capital of the littoral region of Cameroon, I noticed a little girl living and working for her as a nanny. Out of curiosity I asked my friend who the girl was and was told she was the Nanny and was from Nigeria“she is my babysitter and comes from Nigeria.”A Nigerian lady whom I pay monthly brought her to me,she added;I went further with questions like,Do you know her parents,Does she go to school?,from her answers,my friend had little or no information about her nanny.I then asked her is she was aware of the fact that the lady who gave her the girl was committing human trafficking. She tried to justify,so out of curiousity and my quest to denounce this act, I approached the young Nigerian girl called Banine Makiri who told me her story:-”I was brought to Cameroon at a very young age that I do not remember exactly by a Nigerian lady who had been living in Cameroon on a small island called Bokota for years.The lady who brought me here came to my parents and convinced them on letting me go with her, so she could send me to school.Given the fact that at that time my village was at war and I have so many siblings whom my parents could not afford to take care of, I found myself here alongside other children whom she collected from different families.She replied,upon my arrival I was never sent to school rather the lady had arranged for me to go work with another lady selling smoked fish on the island;At first I resisted,she continued-But she threw me out of her house. After spending a night outside in the cold, I finally gave up and went to live with the fish vendor. I never saw a penny but I am sure that money was being given to the lady who brought me.
After working for some years there the lady came to me one day and asked me if I would like to go work as a babysitter?And I accepted,that is how I was brought here”.T o know more about her life back in Bokota,I asked her,whether she will like to go back there?- her reply was a quick “NO,NEVER,I prefer here,because here I am well taken care of.I eat well,I dress well and I am even treated as a family member.I will soon start school to learn how to read and write,a luxury I did not get while in bokota because I worked all the time,no rest,no food not to talk of clothing,as well as beatings for trivial things.”
Listening to Banine`s story broke my heart,the ordeal she had gone through as a child,growing up with no clue on what the future holds for her,and no idea of the whereabouts of her parents was so aching to me. She could not even remember the names of her biological parents. She does not know if they are alive or dead but she knows the money paid to the lady never reaches them.When I asked her if she would love to go back home she said she “no place is better than home,I will love to go back to my parents, but I still thank GOD for placing me where I am because I know some other kids are in worst situations.
The story of this little girl left me in tears.Today Barine is about 15 years old still serving as a babysitter,has no cultural heritage to adhere to,no identity to tag on to,no clue about her parents and her future,she is just looking up to GOD for a miracle in her life.Such is the case of many women in my community.Some are enduring worst ordeals than that of Banine.
Every minute and second, a woman in my community is forced into prostitution,or forced labour through human trafficking yet no action is taken to protect them.Why should a fellow human being inflict such a pain on another?Why is nothing being done about this?Human trafficking in Africa is increasing each day as the quest for money,power and survival increases. Parents are ready to give up their children just for a penny while political leaders are ready to traffick human parts for rituals in quest for power.Lack of family planning has led to the existence of large families which the parents are unable to carter thus children are being sold to for survival.
According to a study by the United Nations Children`s Fund(UNICEF),poverty aggravates already desperate conditions by augmenting conflicts,discrimination and repression.Children who are not registered at birth never formally acquire a nationality and so are easily moved between countries.The study also found that Africas 3.3 million refugees and its estimated 12.7 million internally displaced people are those most vulnerable to trafficking. HIV/Aids has left millions of children in sub Saharan Africa as orphans,thus an estimated 20million children under the age of 15 years in sub Saharan Africa will have lost one or both parents from HIV/AIDS.These children are left extremely vulnerable to trafficking for forced labor,forced prostitution or forced combat.
The association for the promotion of Cameroonian women,with the support of UNICEF released a report that painted” a dire picture of the situation of women outside the home”.Women are harassed and intimidated at work and in schools;Trafficking in women and children exists,as does forced prostitution and many forms of discrimination.Three-fifth of school girls are victims of violence and 65 percent of those infected with HIV/AIDS in the country are women.Deteriorating living conditions in rural areas ,large family sizes and the demand for unskilled and docile workers are blamed for child trafficking from central Africa republic to Cameroon.Eighty-nine percent of African countries are affected by trafficking flows to and from other countries in Africa.In 34 percent of African countries,trafficking to Europe takes place,and in 26 percent,trafficking flows to the middle east.In west Africa and central Africa,trafficking is recognized as a problem in more than 70 percent of countries,and its perceived as severe in over 30 percent of countries in the region.In Cameroon a common tradition of trafficking is the “PLACEMENT”.The practice provides a means for poor families to educate their children.Poor family members would send their children to live with wealthy family members or with other families who live in the country.The children are expected to provide various services to the foster family in exchange for an education,vocational training or money sent back to their family of origin.Gradually traffickers begin to exploit them.In this intrafamily help system,exploitation ranges from withholding pay and refusing or failing to educate the child to abusing the child physically,sexually and mentally.
According to a report by the international labor organization(ILO)thousands of Cameroonian children fall victim of trafficking every year.Children and women are exploited as laborers on plantation and cocao farms and also as workers in small shops,bars,and households.It is common for a middle class family in Cameroon to have one or several children working for them in exchange for a very modest wage and minimal educationThe practice of child labor in households and fields is a tradition that sometimes masks trafficking.In rural areas,children as young as 4 years are expected to work.A recent survey sampled children and employers in yaounde,Limbe and mbangasina,a region with lager cocoa farms.The survey revealed that children from chad,the central African republic and Nigeria were paid as little as 3000 cfa francs per month to perform chores sometimes lasting 18hours a day.The children suffered from malnourishment and sexual abuse.I came across a Nigerian boy who told me of being trafficked to Cameroon by a fisherman.He explained that,the trafficker would visit Oron beach in nigeria acquainting himself with some of the children in the market square.The boy spent 3years doing domestic work and working as a a fisherman before he returned to nigeria.
While a 2007 study conducted by the cameroon government reported that 2-4 million children from the country’s 10 regions involuntarily worked in forced domestic servitude,street vending, child prostitution and labour in hazardous setting,including mines and tea or cocoa plantations where they are treated as adult laboreres.While an unknown number of cameroonian women are lured abroad by fraudulent marriage proposals on internet or offers of work in domestic service and subsequently become victims of forced labor or forced prostitution.This trafficking is reportedly facilitated by corrupt officials who accept bribes for the essence of travel documents.With all these going on in our society,the cameroon government has shown sustained but weak efforts which were limited due to financial constraints to ensure that victims of trafficking received access to necessary assistance through the year
.Though the government acknowledges that trafficking is a problem in cameroon and provided some direct assistance to victims,including temporary residence status,shelter and medical care,government personel did not demonstrate systematic and proactive efforts to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups such as street children,women in prostitution and illegal immigrants or refer these victims to necessary car.Government officials only referred victims to service providers informally.With the advent of this inhuman act,in august 2009 the ministry of social affairs began working with UNICEF, to draft a manual that would show families living in local communities how to create foster homes that provide shelter,food,healthcare and education to victims of trafficking.While the national commission on human rights and freedom and national and international NGOs and the government for the first time provided specialised training on how to identify trafficking victims to some of its officials including law enforcement officers in four regions of the country.
Despite all theses initiatives, the cameroon government has demonstrated weak anti trafficking law enforcement efforts over the past years.It has enacted no relevant legislation and does not have a law prohibiting all forms of trafficking in persons.Are we going to sit and let this act go by?We need to join hands to stop this inhuman act.We need to raise our voices to create a better future for our children,and women in the society.We need to put an end to human trafficking. Lets join hands to be “voices of the voiceless”.