Children end up on the streets of cities like Yaoundé and Douala and to a lesser extent Kumba and Tiko in the south-west province for very much the same reasons as other children across the world. Some are orphans and have no-one to support them, others flee family violence and relationship breakdowns, others simply work on the streets to supplement meagre family incomes whilst others are drawn by the prospect of finding work and earning an income but as one 15 yr old boy discovered "Initially I was excited by the idea of finally being free. I thought I was finally going to do whatever I wished, but little by little I understood that life in the streets is difficult. It is horrible."
Unemployment in Cameroon is already high even for those with an education but for children who live, beg and steal on the streets there is little prospect of employment without exploitation. "A friend advised me to come to Cameroon, telling me there is work and money to be had here,” stated one 18yr old "But since I arrived [two months ago], I have seen nothing of that." In fact most end up foraging for food in rubbish bins, and when they become ill they can't afford to see a doctor. Hundreds of children live on the streets of the major cities with 93% of them being boys. In a relatively harsh regime, some get arrested for smoking or begging and find themselves incarcerated in adult prisons often for months, sometimes years at a time before their case is brought to court.
In the meantime they are at further risk of catching AIDS related illnesses from older, infected prisoners awaiting trial. Some of these street children in Cameroon are trafficked into the country from neighbouring Nigeria and are forced to work as domestic servants, however some flee this life and without resources to return home join the hundreds of others living rough in bus stops and video game houses. Others find refuge on the verandas of off-licences and bars, whilst others find sanctuary in abandoned or uncompleted houses. There are no actual figures for the number of street children in Cameroon (which by their very nature are difficult to collate) however they are certainly not as high as in many surrounding countries. The most recent figures relate to 2008 when the government established that 435 children were living on the streets of Yaounde and Douala. Those familiar with the issue of homelessness will be aware, however, that all such figures mask the true extent of children living without parental support for they do not take account of those children bunking down with friends, bed hopping (trying to find somewhere to sleep for a few days at a time) nor children who work the streets by day and evening then return home to sleep.
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