YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A new report on child abuse in Cameroon shows that over 50 percent of Cameroon’s children have suffered various forms of abuse, with children with disabilities suffering proportionally far worse.
The study was carried over a three-year period by the Cameroon Baptist Hospital Services in partnership with the Netherlands-based Liliane Foundation, using a variety of methods including focus group discussions and in-depth interviews.
While previous studies focused primarily on identifying the prevalence of violence and abuse against children, the latest study sought to “identify the factors contributing to the abuse of children with disability, and to determine appropriate measures and strategies to reduce such abuse so as to improve on the wellbeing for children with disabilities,” according to Glory Agho who presented the results of the study on Sep. 25.
She said children in Cameroon face various forms of abuse, including physical, emotional, sexual as well as parental neglect.
“Physical abuse is experienced in various forms including corporal punishment, rubbing of pepper on their skin, excessive work that is above the child’s age, and being stoned by peers,” Agho said.
She said emotional abuse “involves verbal abuse whereby children are being constantly shouted at and humiliated or frightened and includes constant criticism, calling them by their disabilities, looking down upon a child, ignoring and withholding praise and love.”
She also described sexual abuse of children, including touching sexually sensitive parts on their bodies, having sexual relations with children, exposing kids to pornography and exposing children to adult sexuality.
In addition, the study noted the continual failure to provide children with such basic needs as education, food and healthcare as further forms of abuse.
Speaking to Crux, Agho said that poverty, cultural and social norms, alcoholism, religious beliefs as well as ignorance on the rights of children were the driving force behind child abuse in Cameroon.
“One of the key factors is alcohol consumption. One child told us that when her uncle is drunk, he touches her inappropriately; that is, luring her to sex. We also have religious beliefs. We had children saying that in their church, they were barred from going to hospital to treat their disabilities, believing that with prayer, God would heal them. That is abuse. It is denying the child the right to healthcare,” she told Crux.
Josephine Nsono is one of the researchers for the report, and is herself a victim of repeated sexual assaults as a child.
“I was raped at the age of seven,” Nsono told Crux.
“I was still in primary school. I was raped by someone who was very close: Our neighbor. He was an elderly person. Since then, the trauma has never gone away,” she remembered.
She said that later, she was raped again “by somebody who was a stranger in the village.”
“I never shared it, not with any member of the family, not with anyone else. Battling with all of that, it stifled the child within, until when I was raped again, that’s when I knew that okay, this is not funny. That’s when I called my mom and told her this is what has been happening to me,” Nsono explained.
She later went on to study gender and journalism, hoping to fight for the rights of vulnerable children. For over ten years, she has been working to ensure that children are safeguarded.
“I support organizations developing child protection and child safe-guarding policies, and getting them to sign on to a child protection code,” she said.
Franciscan Sister Clementine Ngong told Crux that although the study was carried out by the Cameroon Baptist Health Services, the Catholic Church is also doing the same thing in their different areas of work, including her order, the Tertiary Sisters of St Francis.
“We are trying to fight against child abuse in many parts of the country. Our sisters are working in the north and east of the country where child abuse is even worse,” she said.
“After reading the report, I was touched, deeply troubled,” Ngong told Crux.
She said she prayed God to “give us the strength to carry on with this fight against the abuse of children.”
Ngong noted that abused children face serious consequences, including psychological trauma and physical illness.
“By helping abused children, we are doing the ministry of Christ, because Christ wants everybody to be uplifted; everybody to be respected, and we work to respect the dignity of every human being, especially those who are vulnerable, such as orphans and disabled people … so I pray that God gives us the means, the courage and the faith to be faithful to such a ministry,” she told Crux.
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