By Etali Genesis Akwaji
In Cameroon forced early child marriage, modern day slavery and child sexual abuse is very prevalent and predominantly in the rural areas of the country. These rural communities are besieged by limited access to information, ancient traditions, ignorance of existing national and international legislation on child marriage, and an ever-increasing orphan population that is vulnerable and susceptible to forced marriages and abuse. Childhood illiteracy perpetrated by limited parental care and support is a contributing factor to why most child brides hardly speak out against their abuser.
Traditional, religious and cultural practices continue to expose the girl child to multiple cases of abuse including forced marriages, sexual exploitation and exploitation in domestic servitude.
UNFPA and UNICEF reports on Cameroon reveal that girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years are the most vulnerable to forced early child marriages. The 2015 state of the world’s children report ranks Cameroon 14. More than 80% of Cameroonians live in rural-patriarchal-communities practicing forced child marriages with huge health, economic and social consequences on girls.
Also, the prevailing and harsh poverty in rural areas is a push factor that makes the girl the only realistic potential source of income to parents. They thus arrange marriages for these girls and charge a bride price that will enable them to buy food, pay for the education and school needs of the boy child, and other household commodities. Paying off debts is also a reason when the parents give the daughter away in the place of payment. UNFPA projects 500,000 child brides in Cameroon by 2030. The impact of HIV/AIDS increases orphan population and girls vulnerability to forced early marriages, modern-day slavery, sex trafficking, rape and related abuses. The project area is leading to HIV/AIDS in Cameroon with a resultant increase in vulnerability.
The absence of strong community mechanisms and goodwill to address the issue continues to undermine the efforts of women and girls to achieve their basic rights and to escape pressures and abuses. The combination of these factors and their cumulative impact on educational, legal, health and economic indicators contribute to high levels of human insecurity among adolescent susceptible young girls, married adolescent women and those they care for especially in rural communities in Cameroon.
Economic inadequacies put low-income families at perpetual vulnerability hardship and thus result in the strong-willed trade in girls to older men in marriage in rural communities for financial security. This situation remains a perennial obstacle to the evolution and growth of young women and girls. This is aggravated by prevailing gender-based violence, entrenched cultural practices which discourage parents from fully investing in the education of women, and an unsupportive policy environment, all motivating factors for girls to drop out of school. Most adolescent young girls in our rural communities, see marriage as the only ideal and compelling option when they drop out of school. Add to that they're struggling every day lives’ conditions exacerbated by poverty.
Widows are burdened by the challenges of raising orphans left behind as their precarious economic situation do not permit them to afford their basic needs and that of their grandchildren.
Sustain Cameroons' project seeks to create a voice-space for victims and potential victims of forced early marriages to engage in community dialogue and facilitate behaviour change. It also hopes to address problems associated with poverty for women, girls, orphans and vulnerable children with the focus on increasing access to education, economic empowerment and health promotion. The projects involve the development of income-generating activities with provision of start-up grants, initiation of village savings and revolving microloans (VSRM) schemes, and business management skills training. It shall empower victims of child marriages, women and low-income families through VSRM, IGAs and cooperatives. Sustain Cameroon invests in extensive community activism for the advancement of the rights of women and girls and support victims and potential victims of forced early child marriage in community activism, providing basic sexual and reproductive health rights education including menstrual health to girls. Activist shall provide tools for safety to vulnerable girls.
Married girls are expected to further benefit from improved reproductive health services, including pre- and post-natal care; increased access to information; and greater social capital through vocational and life-skills training programmes. Indirectly, children of young married mothers, alongside their husbands and in-laws are also beneficiaries of the project.
SUSTAIN Cameroon strives to be a leading nonprofit in Cameroon acting as a clearinghouse for the promotion, and protection of the rights of widows, girls and orphans and vulnerable children.
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