Poverty and other factors account for why some parents continue to endanger the lives of their children.
The issue of child exploitation is a cankerworm which is eating deep into the North West. The Region is known as a hub for the activity which is a human right abuse. Girls and children are being trafficked for force labour and commercial sex. Girls primarily are exploited in domestic servitude, work as nannies or sexual tools. Both boys and girls are exploited within and without the Region for work in shops, bars, restaurants and on plantations.
Child exploitation, which can also be defined as modern day slavery, got its roots from the days of the colonialists. In those days, people were carried from the North West to work in plantations in the South West. As explained by the Governor of the North West Region, Abakar Ahamat, most people prefer children from the North West because they are hard working, obedient and offer cheap services.
The thriving awful trade has developed and taken various forms in the North West because of endemic poverty. There are no or very few industries. According to the Director for the Centre for Human Rights and Peace Advocacy (CHRAPA), Chongsi Joseph Ayeah, during the economic crises, the government embarked on the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) which caused many people jobless and thus unable to care for their children. Also, he noted, the political upheavals in the early nineties with the infamous “Operation Ghost Towns” caused many people to move into the villages.
On daily basis, children as young as six are being transported from the hinterlands, (areas rated high include Mbessa in Boyo Division, Nkambe in Donga Mantung Division, Bafut in Mezam Division); to Bamenda and out of Bamenda to bigger towns like Yaounde, Douala, and other Regions like the South, West and South West. Stories are alarming. A victim, Regina Fouboum, said she was taken from her village to stay with an aunt for two years after which she will learn a trade. It was not to be the case. She lived with her for 10 years and neither learned a trade nor go to school.
Governor open’s investigations
In the light of the numerous cases of abuse, Governor Abakar Ahamat has said most of the cases go unnoticed because of the parents’ complaisance saying this 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 the Gendarmes on what was going on. And the lady escaped. The second case was a girl from Wum in Menchum Division who was brought to Nkwen (Bamenda) in transit to Douala. The trafficker hid her in a hotel for several days. When the hotel manager suspected foul play, he called the police. Sensing danger, the child trafficker escaped before the police could nab him.
“We also have information about a woman who comes here and takes Bororo girls to Doaula for prostitution. These girls are in a hotel room in Douala and they work as prostitutes for which the woman reaps the dividends. We are even told that one of the girls got pregnant and gave birth; and the baby is running around the hotel. I have opened investigations into the matter. We are still working on this particular case,” disclosed the Governor.
The most recent case is that of a woman whose name CT got as N. Delphine (full names withheld) aged 28, a native from Mbessa who is resident in Bantum. She was caught Saturday, 19th June, 20l0 about to transport eight children (two boys six girls) from Mbessa, Boyo Division in the North West Region to Bantum, Nde Division in the West Region. As the story goes, Delphine carried the children from Mbessa to Bamenda without any problem. When she got to the “Amour Mezam travelling agency”, she paid the transport fare but when asked to give the names of the children to be written on the receipt; she did not know the names. Worse still, the children and herself had no identification papers. One of the children confessed that it was the second time she was going to Bantum to work and whenever she goes there, she was taken to the farm from morning to evening. The children that were about to be trafficked included Valentine Jike (7 years), Lovette Neng (l0 years), Susana Jukoh aged 6, Christabel Yuven aged 10, Honorine Gonuyu, 13 years, Marceline Jie, 13 years, and Lawrence Tana 15 years.
The local authorities are not lying on laurels. And the perpetrators may be ignorant of the law. Through its 2005 anti-child trafficking law, the government prescribes a penalty of 20 years imprisonment for those guilty of child trafficking. Also the penal code in sections 292, 293 punishes forced labour and slavery. But how this law is applied is the problem. For all the known cases of child trafficking in the North West Region, no judgment has ever been passed. However, there are some credible organizations and bodies that are helping to curb this macabre act. One is the Justice and Peace Commission of the Arch Diocese of Bamenda whose Coordinator, Laura Nadin Ngwa revealed that they have set up Vigilante Committees in areas (catchments) where the phenomenon is rampant as well as other measures to curb the growing malpractice.
From the look of things, child trafficking seems a complicated phenomenon to handle. Why? Because most of the children being trafficked work in the homes and farms of the top brass of the society. Like Governor Abakar Ahamat said, the elites don’t seem to take the issue seriously. This might account for the increase of child trafficking in the Region. But above all, one thing is certain. The child has the right to life, education and to be protected.