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Cameroon Rights Groups Demand Protection of Displaced Women and Children from Rights Abuses

FILE - A mother and her child sit with other families at a camp for internally displaced people in Dougi, Cameroon.
FILE - A mother and her child sit with other families at a camp for internally displaced people in Dougi, Cameroon.

Ahead of World Human Rights Day this Saturday (12/10), Cameroonian rights groups are protesting what they call dehumanizing treatment of women and children displaced by the separatist crisis in two western provinces. The rights groups say displaced women and girls are forced into physical and sexual abuse and domestic work without pay.

These are the voices of several hundred women and girls singing in streets in, Cameroon's capital, Yaounde.

Civilians should denounce human rights abusers, they say. Anyone fearing reprisal for doing so should discreetly tell female associations when anyone abuses the rights of women and girls.

The protests in the capital and in Cameroon’s economic hub, Doula, were organized by the Association for the Fight Against Violence on Women and Young Girls.

Human rights activist Jeanette Ebale, the association coordinator, calls it very disheartening that so many women and girls fleeing the separatist war in Cameroon’s English-speaking western regions do not find peace, love and comfort in French-speaking towns.

Ebale says her strong message on Human Rights Day is that civilians should denounce those who physically and sexually abuse women and girls displaced by Cameroon’s separatist crisis. She says 130 of the roughly 370 displaced females who rushed to her association for help after they were raped or forced into prostitution in the past two months were diagnosed with gonorrhea, chlamydia and or syphilis.

Eighteen-year old Immaculate Efossi escaped from Mamfe, an English-speaking southwestern town, in February after armed men torched a girls’ school dormitory. She says she spent two months living in the courtyard of the Roman Catholic church cathedral in French-speaking Douala.

Efossi says a man who promised her a domestic worker job instead abused her.

"I did every work, cleaning the house, cleaning the children and dresses and then cooking, yet I had only one meal each day," said Efossi. "He kept on promising to pay my salary which he never paid for seven months. Honestly I could not leave his house despite the abuse because I had nowhere to go."

Efossi said she was directed by a friend who left Mamfe and was abused sexually for a year to Women's Rights, a female activist group. Women's Rights says the man who abused Efossi and 11 other displaced girls and women is now facing charges in Douala.

Cameroon’s government says children in the troubled western regions face violence, kidnapping, rape, being forced out of schools and into early marriage, and recruitment by armed groups.

When they escape to French-speaking towns for safety, many become homeless, lack an education and are forced into prostitution and hard labor in plantations. Some are raped, arbitrarily arrested, detained and tortured.

Rights groups say it is difficult to know the number of women and girls whose rights are violated because most victims stay quiet for fear of reprisal.

Marie Theres Abena Ondoua is Cameroon's minister of women's empowerment and the family. She says victims should denounce perpetrators of human rights abuses. She says the state will make the accused appear before the courts.

"Our society should banish he numerous manifestations of incivility, such as violence against women," said Ondoua. "The government has made this a major concern through the promotion of the human rights of all citizens. It is extremely important for us to have peace and the promotion of the rule of law."

The U.N. says the separatist crisis in Cameroon's English-speaking regions that degenerated into an armed conflict in 2017 has claimed 3,500 lives and displaced 750,000 people.

Human Rights Day is celebrated every December 10, the day on which, in 1948, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.