Traditional and modern forms of slavery and slavery-like practices remain prevalent in Cameroon, despite its criminalisation in its Penal Code, the country report of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent in Cameroon and Status of Modern Slavery has revealed.
This report, which was launched on November 3 is informed by research on discriminated communities on labour and ancestry in modern slavery in Cameroon and the target audience was the Pygmies and Mbororo populations, Dr Maurice Magloire ONANA, Head of Human Rights and Action Department at the Catholic University of Central Africa: UCAC, said in the report.
“This work was carried out with the aim of highlighting the prejudices, discriminations and stereotypes of which the Pygmies and the Mbororos in Cameroon are victims; and on the other hand to draw the attention of decision-makers and development partners to the situation of the said communities. It is therefore a valuable opportunity for politicians, donors and researchers to better understand and address the difficulties faced by the Pygmies and Mbororo populations in Cameroon. It would therefore be interesting in view of this opportunity to provide effective and efficient solutions for their development.
Although this work is not in-depth given the limited time available to the author of this report on the one hand; and the unavailability of certain data on the other hand, we believe that it has its place, even minimal, for greater consideration of the communities discriminated against on the job and the ancestry in slavery in Cameroon,” she added.
“The most recent Global Slavery Index conducted by Walkfree, ILO and IOM in 2023 ranks Cameroon as the 16th country in Africa with a prevalence of modern slavery. Over 155,000 people out of the 26.5 million total population are victims of modern slavery. This means that 5.8 out of every 1000 persons are living in slavery or slavery-like practices,” said the report.
The various forms of modern slavery include – sex trafficking and forced labour of children, women and IDPs within the country and abroad. Vulnerable children also include the homeless and orphans, particularly for sex trafficking, domestic servitude, begging and street vending. “Cameroon, along with other countries including Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Congo, and the DRC, is deeply impacted by ISIS-West Africa and Boko Haram, who are known for recruiting or trafficking adults and children for military support or direct combat role,” the report added.
The estimates of Modern Slavery presented in the study are derived from various secondary research sources, including UN agencies, academic research, CSO submissions to UN human rights mechanisms, country reports submitted to UN mechanisms, and news reports,
Talking about CDWD, the report said that the Fulani ethnic group, alternatively known as Foulani, Fulbhés, Fulfuldé, Pular, or Fellata, depending on the country of residence, includes the Mbororos. “They can be found in various Central and West African countries and are recognised by their nomadic and sedentary practices, primarily centred on livestock. In Cameroon, they constitute one of the minority groups, inhabiting the three northern regions, the West, the North-West, and the East. Within the Mbororos community in Central Africa, there existed a slave-caste system, wherein domestic slavery was highly prevalent. The Mbororos, estimated to number over a million and accounting for around 12% of Cameroon's population, were significantly affected by the transatlantic slave trade, which sourced slaves from Cameroon,” the report added.
The communities formerly known as “slave-caste” and “occupational or artisan-caste” among the ethnic groups in Cameroon constitute the “Communities Discriminated by Work and Descent” (DWD), the report said.
The report points out that the communities experience multiple layers of discrimination based not only on work and ancestry/descent but also on gender identity, disability, age, immigration, and other factors. It is estimated that about 49.6 million people worldwide live in modern slavery today.
Rights holders' experience worldwide point to the engagement of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD) in various forms of modern slavery worldwide, including Cameroon, the report added.
The decision-making process sees minimal participation from Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent (CDWD), both at the local and national levels.
Discrimination against them results in the non-recognition of their localities and traditional institutions by public authorities, the report pointed out.
Even in cases where the CDWD receive recognition, it remains quite weak.
“To address these issues, Rights Experts propose placing the specific characteristics of the CDWD at the core of public authorities' concerns. They emphasise the importance of involving the CDWD in decisions that affect them and ensuring that their representatives are included in all programs designed for their well-being. The communities face restrictions on accessing natural resources due to the land pressure they experience. Additionally, inadequate health coverage leads to infant mortality, affecting the CDWD as it does other communities,” the report said.
The emergence of stereotypes, the report points out, “against the CDWD, based on their identification, constitutes cultural discrimination.”
Regarding marriage norms, such as endogamy and exogamy, members of the CDWD communities can marry members of non-CDWD regardless of social status, and similarly, a member of one CDWD can marry a member of another CDWD.
“Regarding the Mbororo community, which is predominantly involved in livestock rearing, they face tax uncertainty due to the imposition of multiple taxes by the government, communes, and traditional authorities on cattle breeders. These taxes vary in amount each year, leading to an unpredictable and increasing tax burden over time. In essence, these levies not only lack consistency but also tend to grow with each passing year,” the report added.
Some of the most important recommendations include:
Recognise and acknowledge the Existence of CDWD: State should acknowledge the existence of discrimination based on work and descent as a distinct form of discrimination that deserves the attention of the African community and that which affects peoples across Cameroon. To address the unique needs of the CDWD, specific laws must be adopted. Despite the constitutional provision for protecting indigenous peoples and minorities, there is still a lack of dedicated legislation for the Mbororos and other marginalised groups.
Adoption of Laws and policies for ensuring Socio-Economic rights of CDWD: Cameroon shall adopt constitutional, legislative, administrative, budgetary, judicial, educational, and social measures to eliminate discrimination based on work and descent in Cameroon to respect, protect, promote, restitute, implement and monitor the human rights of those facing this discrimination including through robust disaggregated data collection in line with data protection and data privacy principles.
Collaboration with NHRIs, CSOs and Human Rights Defenders: The state shall, in collaboration with National Human Rights Institutions, civil society organisations and human rights defenders belonging to communities discriminated based on work and descent to combat prejudicial beliefs and practices in all their forms, including notions of untouchability, pollution and caste superiority or inferiority, as well as to prevent human rights violations taken on the basis of such belief.
Conducting of Study on the status of CDWD: The state shall initiate a process to realize a continental study on the situation of communities discriminated based on work and descent to be shared with the African Union organs and institutions.
Inclusive Formulation of Programs and Projects: The formulation of programs and projects should involve active participation from the target communities (CDWD communities and other marginalised), taking into account their distinct characteristics. Preceding this, adequate training should be provided to the main beneficiaries to enhance their understanding of various aspects.
Establishment of Organisational Mechanisms: The setup of organisational mechanisms such as commissions, committees, departments, and national reporting and monitoring mechanisms is a positive step. We recommend that representatives from the target groups (CDWD communities and other marginalised) be included in these mechanisms to ensure their voices are heard.