Cameroon has previously been a relatively stable country in West Africa, but has been shaken in recent years by an increasingly bloody conflict. The conflict erupted in 2016 when demands were made to use English as the main language in schools and courts, despite a French-speaking majority in the country. The country is also affected by the Islamist terrorist movement Boko Haram, which is ravaging the area – and girls are particularly vulnerable to the group’s violence.
As a result of the unrest, more than 400,000 people are living as internally displaced persons and more than 25,000 are estimated to have fled to Nigeria. Most schools in the region have been closed since November 2016 and the few that are open are exposed to threats of attacks.
In recent years, Cameroon has also been affected by political unrest in neighboring countries. The civil war in the Central African Republic and the threat from the Islamist terrorist movement Boko Haram that has ravaged around Lake Chad has led to the country receiving refugee flows that there was no capacity to deal with.
Millions fleeing the terrorist group
In recent years, Boko Haram has forced more than 2.2 million people in the countries around Lake Chad – Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria – to flee. Half of these are children and girls are particularly vulnerable to the violence of the terrorist group.
In a study conducted by Plan International in the region, teenage girls living in the areas where the terrorist group is present talk about how they are exposed to serious violence. The abuse often takes place in the home and the perpetrator is often a family member.
Several of the interviewees also say that the protracted crisis has led to them being forced into prostitution in exchange for necessities such as food, money, clothes or school supplies. Because there is a great stigma surrounding sexual violence, in some cases girls are also forced to marry men who have raped them. You can read the study in its entirety here .
Plan International has unique insight into the country
Plan International has been working to strengthen the rights of children and young people to life, development, protection and participation in Cameroon since 1996. As there are few other aid organizations in place, Plan International has a unique insight into the conflict-torn country.
Plan International’s programs and activities work to provide engaging and uplifting solutions to the problems that children and young people in the country face. Especially those who are most vulnerable. We strive for a large-scale and sustainable impact to ensure that children and their communities have access to protection, including education, health care and decent work and entrepreneurship opportunities.
Because the few schools that are open are exposed to threats of attacks, Plan works to be able to help children in other environments.
Now Ahmadou can contribute to the household
The savings and loan group has not only opened my eyes to starting a business, it also gave me the opportunity to test my leadership.
Ahmadou, head of savings and loan groups
Ahmadou currently sells dried vegetables that she bought for the loan she took out, so she is no longer dependent on her husband. Savings and loan groups give women like Ahmadou the opportunity to live more independently. Plan International has started such groups to improve the living conditions of both women and their families. Here they also get education and vocational knowledge by taking Plan International’s entrepreneurship course.
Security and protection against violence
Halima plays and learns in safety
After just one month in school, Halima became a different person. She always comes home very happy and sings, dances, counts or quotes the alphabet.
Yagana, mother of Halima
4-year-old Halima is the youngest child in the family. Together with her parents and ten siblings, she fled their village in northern Cameroon after several violent attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The family now lives in a camp for internally displaced persons that can accommodate approximately 1,200 people. Here, Plan International has built and equipped a child-friendly center for children who have been forced to flee. There they can play and learn things in a safe way and have a weekday again.
The chain of child marriage was broken with Binta
In a refugee camp in Cameroon, Plan International is working to stop child marriage. Several have been broken up and the work gives rings on the water for little siblings.
Twelve-year-old Binta fled the Boko Haram terrorist group with his family. This spring, they arrived at a refugee camp in northern Cameroon, where they were finally able to rest in safety.
– I was very happy because I could finally find new friends to play with and stop worrying, says Binta.
She did not know then that her parents were planning to marry her off to a man who was older than her own father.
One and a half months after the family arrived at the refugee camp, Binta was forced to marry another refugee, three times as old as herself. For several weeks she lived with the man who forced her to have sex and the otherwise happy girl closed more and more within herself and shut out the outside world.
Plan International is responsible for the children’s safety in the camp and when the staff heard about Binta’s situation, they acted immediately. Binta received immediate medical attention and is now being helped to recover from what she experienced. The man she was forced to marry was arrested and is awaiting trial. Binta’s parents have received training in how dangerous it is for young girls to get married and risk both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. They were finally convinced of the importance of their daughter being allowed to continue going to school instead.
Together with his four younger siblings, Binta now goes to school in the camp. Here she has discovered a new world of numbers, letters, drawing, games and song.
– I learn a lot. Every day, after school, I stop at Plan International’s office to show them what I learned, she says.
She still receives psychosocial support and gradually returns the happy and social girl. There is still a lot of work to be done to access the culture and customs that cause children to be married off in the camp. But through regular campaigns, trainings and discussion groups, Plan International is beginning to see a change. Several child marriages have been dissolved and hopefully this will lead to younger siblings not having to go through the same thing. Binta’s mother was married off when she was 14 years old, but the chain was broken with Binta and now both she and the little sisters can continue to go to school instead.
Facts about Cameroon
Population: 23 million
Life expectancy: 58 years
Infant mortality rate: 53 per 1000 births
Teenage pregnancy: 109 per 1000 girls aged 15-19
Maternal mortality: 596 per 100,000 births
Percentage of children starting school: 91.4%
Literacy literacy: 71.3%
Proportion of women in parliament: 31.1%