The lives of children in Cameroon should be better than in many other African countries. A relatively stable state, albeit ruled tightly by President Paul Biya, Cameroon has a decent agricultural economy buoyed by oil reserves. Yet despite these favourable factors, over 50% of children in Cameroon live below the poverty line and child mortality rates for the under fives are on the increase. 52,000 children in Cameroon die each year from malnutrition alone. Life expectancy for children in Cameroon is just over 54 years, not helped by the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Of the 9,142,000 children in Cameroon, a staggering 300,000 have been orphaned by AIDS and a further 45,000 are infected themselves. Many of these orphaned children along with others who escape poverty or family breakdown end up on the streets living through vending, begging or stealing.
Those children who are caught committing crimes to survive face harsh sanctions with reports of some young children being imprisoned for months or even years before they can face a court to establish their guilt or innocence. Some children are even arrested just for begging or smoking and are forced to live in cramped prison conditions at the mercy of older, often HIV infected men. Sanitation is also a major area of concern with 75% of schools in some areas having no toilets or washing facilities. This lack of water is cited as a primary reason why many girls in Cameroon fail to attend education ~ in general attitudes towards girls in Cameroon are that they are better suited to domestic chores in any event. Even water supplies in cities such as the capital Yaounde pump out dirty, often contaminated water.
In more rural communities, particularly in the north west, the only water available is from muddy, tributary rivers (bottom, right) which can be an hour's walk there and back from home, and the water collected is from the same rivers that livestock use as well as clothes are washed in. As such, water related sicknesses amongst children in Cameroon are high. Organisations such as UNICEF have been carrying out campaigns in schools stressing the need to wash hands after using the toilet and before eating to prevent outbreaks of cholera which caused over 500 deaths in 2010 alone out of 7000 cases. Overall in Cameroon 86% of urban dwellers have access to safe water dropping to 44% in rural communities.
There are also ongoing concerns about the trafficking of children within Cameroon with girls being trafficked for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation and boys being forced to work in agriculture as well as in factories, street selling and fishing. Of note is that Cameroon does not appear to accept this as a problem, and whilst, under duress, some arrests have been made for the trafficking of children, no prosecutions followed. As well as internal trafficking, Cameroon is also known as a transit country for trafficking of children between two of its neighbours, Nigeria and Gabon.
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