There are an estimated 157,000 people living in modern slavery in Cameroon. Child traffickers often use the promise of education or a better life in the city to convince rural parents to give their children over to an intermediary, who then exploits the children in sex trafficking or forced labour. Sometimes relatives subject children to sex trafficking within the country. In Cameroon, one in every three girls is married before the age of 18. After Habiba’s father died, her mother struggled to support the family. At 14, she was forced into marriage with a stranger who would beat her and abandoned her after the birth of her twins, one of which died shortly after.
Child, early and forced marriage is widespread in Cameroon. More than 1 in 3 girls in Cameroon are married before they turn 18 with variations across regions, in the North 73% of girls marry as children as opposed to 13% in the Littoral province. Lack of education is strongly linked to the prevalence of child marraige in the country, with 79% of women aged 20-24 with no education and 45% with just primary education being married by 18. Moreover, like many other countries, those that are forced to marry early are those from the poorest families, girls from the poorest 20% of families are 6.5 times more likely to marry before 18. The Cameroon government in 2016 introduced a new penal code aiming to end the pratice of child marriage, with Section 356 criminalising forced marriage. Lamana was 15 years old when she was forced to marry a man she did not know. Her husband would not allow her to leave the house and beat her daily. One day, after a particularly bad beating, Lamana left. With the help of Plan International, she is now returning to school to study computer science.
The United States is a popular destination country for people searching for job and education opportunities and a better life. Labour trafficking exists in multiple forms including domestic servitude, forced labour in agriculture, fishing, and construction across the United States, with domestic servitude being one of the most difficult to detect as traffickers are able to keep people isolated and intimidated. Among those trafficked for domestic servitude in the US are children, lured to the US with the promises of a brighter future. At 9 years old Evelyn Chumbow was presented with an opportunity to travel from Cameroon to the United States to receive an education. Dreaming for the best for their daughter, her parents packed up her belongings and put her on a plane with a Cameroonian recruiter. However, when Evelyn reached the US she was forced to cook, clean and take care of the children of the recruiter. Never paid for her work and subjected to daily beatings Evelyn never received the education she was promised. After 7 years of domestic servitude, Evelyn was able to escape. She is now a vocal survivor activist working to raise awareness and educate on modern slavery.
Evelyn Chumbow was taken from her family in Cameroon at age 10 by a man who convinced her parents that she would get a better education in the United States. Instead, she was forced to work as a slave in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, doing manual labor for her captor and being verbally and physically abused.In her narrative, which she delivered before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she asked Congress to address labor trafficking as well as sex trafficking, and referenced a House bill that addresses only sex trafficking.
In 1999, Roseline Odine reached the turning-point where she could be a slave no longer: “That’s it. That’s it,” she said. Roseline’s narrative features a long escape sequence as she moved through the turning-point from slavery to freedom. Roseline spent two and a half years as a domestic slave in Washington DC. Promised an American education and a babysitting jobs, she was tricked into leaving her family in Cameroon at the age of 14. Upon arrival in the US she worked long hours for no money, was not sent to school, and was beaten and verbally abused. Roseline was also sexually harassed. She recounts a process of indoctrination and mind-control that eventually meant she “didn’t want to talk to the cop because of what she [her enslaver] had told me in the house—that America’s no good.” After escaping, Roseline met Louis Etongwe, a cousin of the man who drove her to safety. She told him that there were two more Cameroonian slaves in the area. Louis helped them to escape, then took tapes of all three girls to Cameroon to show their parents and gather evidence against the traffickers. Roseline’s captors, Louisa and Kevin, were eventually convicted, sentenced to nine years in prison, and told to pay her $100,000 in restitution. Kevin was also convicted of attempted sexual assault.
Christina Elangwe spent five years as a domestic slave in Washington DC, held by Cameroonians. Promised an American education and a babysitting job, she was tricked into leaving her family in Cameroon at the age of 17. Upon arrival in the US, she worked long hours for no money, was not sent to school, and were beaten and verbally abused.A man called Louis Etongwe helped Christina and two other women to escape, then took tapes of all three to Cameroon to show their parents and gather evidence against the traffickers. Christina’s captors received five years probation and were ordered to pay her $180,000 in back wages. So far she has received about $2000.