The role of the judiciary in combating human trafficking in Cameroon
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Human trafficking is very much prevalent in every society. Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons especially for the purpose of exploitation. It is a violation of their rights, their well-being and denies them the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Shockingly, despite the fascinating evidence that has given the country an excellent scorecard on child trafficking, the jurisprudence from the courts indicates that the offence of child trafficking is highly under-reported, under-investigated and under-prosecuted.
Hence in this study, we shall examine the role of the judiciary in the fight against child trafficking in Cameroon. In doing so, we shall adopt the doctrinal research method which is largely content analysis consisting of secondary data and primary data.
Cameroon is a country of origin, transit, and destination for children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labour and a country of origin for women in forced labour. Individual trafficking operations usually involve the trafficking of two or three children at most, as when rural parents hand over their children to a seemingly benevolent middleman who may promise education and a better life in the city.
A 2007 study conducted by the Cameroon government reported that 2.4 million children from Cameroon’s ten regions involuntarily work in forced domestic servitude, street vending, and child prostitution, or in hazardous settings, including mines and tea or cocoa plantations, where they are treated as adult labourers. An unknown number of these children are trafficking victims.
Nigerian and Beninese children attempting to transit Cameroon enroute to Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, or adjacent countries also fall into the hands of traffickers who force them to stay in the country and work. An unknown number of Cameroonian women are lured abroad by fraudulent proposals of marriage on the Internet or offers of work in domestic service and subsequently become victims of forced labor or forced prostitution – principally in Switzerland and France, and according to recent reports, as far away as Russia. This trafficking reportedly is facilitated by corrupt officials who accept bribes for the issuance of travel documents.
The Government of Cameroon does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. However, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these efforts, the government did not show evidence of increasing efforts to convict and punish trafficking offenders, including complicit officials, and to identify and protect victims of trafficking. While state prosecutors coordinated efforts with Interpol to investigate suspected trafficking offences, particularly in the Northwest Region, there have been no reports of new trafficking prosecutions or convictions.
Experts consider the 2005 law against child trafficking to be well written but underused because there is no system to provide relevant judicial officials with copies of new laws. Judges, law enforcement officials, and social workers do not enforce the legislation because they are not familiar with it.
The government did not take measures to complete and enact a 2006 draft law prohibiting the trafficking of adults. It failed to investigate reports of maintaining hereditary servants in involuntary servitude in the Northern Region. In August 2009, the Ministry of Social Affairs, in partnership with UNICEF and NGO’s, began to develop a guide for protecting vulnerable children from exploitation, including trafficking but did not complete a draft by the expected deadline at the end of 2009.
The Government of Cameroon demonstrated weak anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts over the last year. The government enacted no relevant legislation during the reporting period, and the country does not have a law prohibiting all forms of trafficking in persons, as its 2006 draft law against adult trafficking has yet to be passed and enacted.
The country’s existing 2005 law against child trafficking and slavery prescribes a penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for these offences − a punishment that is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offences.
During the reporting period, authorities investigated 26 new cases of human trafficking, as well as 18 other cases of possible trafficking offences, none of which has resulted in a prosecution. All of the 26 cases involved children and 10 of the cases were arrests and detentions pending trials.
Several factors delay these cases, including the limited number of gendarmes and police officers available in rural areas, poor understanding of trafficking issues among victims who may be illiterate, and the lack of any security units specifically assigned to anti-trafficking details. The remaining 16 cases were alleged trafficking offenders who were caught in the act and arrested, but finally released after the matter was resolved either at the level of security forces, social affairs agencies, or a human rights lawyer’s chambers.
To address these cases, officials used the 2005 anti-child trafficking law and the pertinent provisions of the penal code. The government reported no trafficking convictions during the reporting period. The government did not investigate traditional leaders in the Northern Region suspected of keeping hereditary servants in conditions of involuntary servitude. Official sources give no indication that the government facilitates or condones trafficking, though there were signs of some officials’ involvement in trafficking.
In November 2009, a Bamenda-based lawyer filed a complaint against a commissioner of one of the police districts for complicity in child trafficking. The lawyer claimed that the commissioner opposed the arrest and detention of a woman caught while committing transnational trafficking. The Bamenda High Court took no action on the complaint against the police commissioner during the reporting period.
Shockingly, despite fascinating evidence that has given the country an excellent scorecard on child trafficking, the jurisprudence from the courts indicates that the offence of the child trafficking funds is highly under-reported, under-investigated and under-prosecuted. It is based on the foregoing that this researcher has embarked on this research to discover the causes of child trafficking and to make policy recommendations that shall help in solving the problems highlighted.
- What is child trafficking?
- What measures are taken by the international community to combat Child trafficking?
- Is there any institutional and legal framework in Cameroon to combat trafficking in person?
- Are they policy recommendations for an effective fight against child trafficking in Cameroon?
This research has both general and specific objectives;
- To know the role of the judiciary in the fight against child trafficking in Cameroon.
- To understand the concept of child trafficking
- To address the measures taken by the international community in combatting child trafficking.
- To analyze if there are any institutional and legal framework in Cameroon to combat trafficking in person
- To make some recommendations on how child trafficking can be eradicated in Cameroon.