According to various United Nations (UN) and human rights organization reports, there has been a dramatic increase in sexual violence and assault cases towards women in the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon. According to Al Jazeera, the main perpetrators of the attacks are “armed separatists, military personnel and civilians.” Children and women have been the main targets of sexual violence during the conflict that has caused mass displacement and harm in Cameroon since 2016. A drastic increase in rape, sexual and physical assault cases have been documented in these Anglophone regions. According to Al Jazeera, between January to March, there were approximately 500 sexual assault cases reported, this does not account for those unreported. The United Nations have also investigated these claims and have found that there were also more than 500 additional cases that included, “gender-based violence including forced marriage, denial of economic resources and emotional abuse” according to Al Jazeera.
According to the UN, in 2020 there were 4,300 documented sexual assault and gender-based violence incidents reported in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon. More than 30 percent of these victims were children. Military personnel have the power in these regions and use their power to coerce children and women into unwarranted sexual acts. According to a statement obtained by Al Jazeera, one woman stated, “Girls and women will just be walking around; I have witnessed it, my daughter has witnessed it, you just see the uniformed people and they have their guns with them, and they are calling you. You are helpless, you are scared, because they can just pull the trigger.” Many individuals abuse this power to scare victims and many oblige due to fear of further harassment and violence.
In Cameroon, women and children have become easy targets for military personnel who use violence and fear to easily harm these individuals. Many women are houseless because houses and villages have been destroyed due to the ongoing conflict, and many do whatever possible to obtain money or a place to stay. Reports show that separatists take advantage of this, some impregnating these women, as well as sexually abusing and harming them. Women report that feel they cannot be alone on the streets or earn a living without fear of being targets of gender-based violence. Due to restrictions and stay-at-home orders that have been in place because of COVID-19, there has been an alarming increase in reported sexual violence and assault cases, not only in Cameroon, but in many other countries as well.
Since 2016, Cameroon has been in the midst of a war between Anglophone and Francophone groups. In 2016, according to Al Jazeera, the government used lethal forced to stop peaceful protests by the Anglophones fighting against the ostracism of the Francophone government. As a result, over 30 armed groups have formed to fight for an independent nation they call Ambazonia. These Anglophone groups consider themselves to be “freedom fighters” as stated by Al Jazeera. According to the UN, as a result of this conflict, there are approximately four million individuals who have been negatively impacted due to the conflict in the North West and Southwest regions of Cameroon. This conflict has displaced more than 700,000 civilians and has resulted in another 63,800 crossing into Nigeria for refuge according to the UN.
The UN, human rights organizations and the international community must work towards combatting this human rights issue. Though investigations and reports are being conducted in these regions, no sexual violence prevention methods have been put in place. Women must be protected and have the peace of mind of knowing they can walk around the streets freely without fear of harm. The UN must send peacekeepers to not only control the war that is taking place, but assist women and children who are being harmed daily. Many assaults are most likely being unreported because of lack of health care services or safe places to stay after reports have been made. Safe houses and access to medical services must be made available for the brave women who come forward and who have been targets of sexual violence and abuse.
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