The protection of the right of the child in Cameroon
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The rights of children in Cameroon is considered as a fundamental human right that ought to be respected, the constitution of Cameroon has guaranteed these inalienable rights of children as their fundamental rights.
This has been provided in the preamble of the constitution as further enshrined in article 65 which makes the preamble part and parcel of the constitution and other legislation enacted in the country
. The problem this research seeks to address is the ineffectiveness in the protection of the rights of the child in Cameroon which is manifested in the various forms of child labor such as child trafficking and sexual exploitation especially child prostitution.
The practice of child trafficking affects the protection of children’s rights in Cameroon. Children are trafficked from the rural areas to urban areas to be used as labourers, hawkers, prostitutes, thieves, and street beggars, however, the aim of this research paper is to critically examine the laws protecting the right of the child in Cameroon.
The research paper identifies children’s rights in Cameroon and the extend of the protection and examine possible recommendations for the protection of these rights
The notion that children are right bearers rather than passive recipients of their parents and state’s paternalistic favour and largesse, is of relatively recent origin.
The existence of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 and the AU’s African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in 1990 strengthens children’s rights.
In the intervening period, a number of post-1990 Constitutions of African states started incorporating children’s rights.
Children have a unique and privileged place in society since they are a vulnerable group of human beings.
The age limit as set by the African Charter of the Rights and Welfare of the Child is below the age of 18 years. African children need special care and protection.
In this regard, all humans below the age of 18 are so considered children and as such entitled to the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, thought, religion and conscience.
Many of the basic ideas that animated children’s rights to movement developed in the aftermath of the Second World War, and the atrocities of The Holocaust, that culminated in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.
The true forerunner of human rights and children’s rights discourse was the concept of natural rights which appeared as part of the medieval natural law tradition.
It became prominent during the age of enlightenment with philosophers such as John Locke, Francis Hutcheson, and Jean- Jacques Rousseau and featured prominently in the political discourse of the American Revolution and the French Revolution. From this foundation, the modern human rights and children’s rights arguments emerged.
This was a reaction to slavery, torture, genocide, and war crimes; This was due to inherent human vulnerability, and as being a precondition for the possibility of a just society.
Children are often victims of bad treatment, negative social and cultural practices, sexual abuse, and all forms of economic hazardous exploitation including commercial sexual exploitation. They are brought to urban areas by their guardians with the aim of taking care of them and providing for their well-being.
But this, they are turned into slaves and even work beyond their strength. Some of them work with no pay which results to child maltreatment and injustice.
They are exposed to hazardous working conditions which are extremely dangerous to their health and wellbeing as a child. Some are kidnapped and trafficked for man’s selfish interests.
Others are forced to beg on the streets and get involved in the illegal use of drugs.
These activities violate children’s rights and welfare and destroy their dreams of becoming future African leaders of tomorrow
It is true to say that International Law has always been considered as one of its fundamental purposes for the maintenance of peace. Situations of human rights violations are inevitable and no matter their nature, their occurrence is a problem and has to be addressed. The prosecution for human rights violation cases, especially as concerns children’s rights is embodied in various international legal instruments.
In November 1989, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter referred to as CRC) and this treaty went into force less than a year in September 1990.
African leaders decided to adopt their own version of the CRC; the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (hereafter referred to as the African Children’s Charter), which was adopted in July 1990 went into force in November 1999.
These are two internationally recognized treaties protecting children’s rights and welfare in Africa. There are others such as the Declaration on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
In Cameroon, the CRC and the African Charter on the rights and welfare of the child (hereafter referred to as ACRWC) were recognized, accepted, and ratified as part of its laws ensuring the protection of children’s rights and welfare.
As per article 45 of the Constitution of Cameroon, ratified treaties and international agreements take precedence over national laws.
Cameroon is seen to be a monist state in terms of the status of international instruments duly ratified by the government.
However, with regards to the application of ratified treaties, Cameroon is dualist as such treaties only take effect through domestication by national law.
Cameroon also has various legislative acts and decrees protecting children’s rights and welfare such as (Section 1) of Law No. 2005/015 of 29 December 2005. Children should not be victims of torture.
That is why Law No. 97/009 of 10 January 1997 States that the practice of torture in Cameroon has to be stopped at all costs and sanctions meted out. Section 7 of Law No. 98/004 of 14 April 1998 stipulates that everyone is entitled to an education regardless of sex, religion, age, political opinion, and social origin.
Orphans can be adopted and guided by foster parents, foster homes orphanages with good intention to take care of the children as per Law No. 84/04 of July 1983.
However, the government has created several ministerial departments responsible for the rights of children with respect to Decree No. 2004/320 of 8 December 2004.
There is a gradual alarming practice of child labor in Cameroon. According to the 2008 government statistics on child labor in Cameroon, 85.2% of working children were employed in the agriculture sector, either on some family subsistence plots or on tea, banana, and palm oil plantations.
In the urban informal sector, children work as street vendors, car washers, and domestic workers.
There is a good enforcement mechanism of children’s rights at the international and national levels. This is evident in various international Conventions and Declarations such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (CRC), and the African Charter of the Rights and Welfare of the Child 1990 (The African Children’s Charter).
Cameroon to this effect has ratified the CRC and the African Children’s Charter. Cameroon has a good legal framework such as the Labour Code, Penal Code, and Criminal Procedure Code, all protecting children in different ways. This notwithstanding, there is the continuous practice of child labour.
Children are taken from rural areas to urban areas by foster parents with promises of care and education, whereas, they are turned into labourers and victims of domestic violence. Some are converted into public vendors in streets aged 5 to 14 years.
The ineffectiveness in the protection of children’s rights is manifested in the various forms of child labour such as child trafficking and sexual exploitation especially child prostitution. The practice of child trafficking affects the protection of children’s rights in Cameroon.
Children are trafficked from rural areas to urban areas to be used as labourers, hawkers, prostitutes, thieves, and street beggars. Cameroonian legislation punishes harmful practices on female children such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), breast ironing, and forced marriages.
Female Genital Mutilation involves the partial or the total removal of the female genital organs for cultural reasons. It is commonly carried out in the rural areas of Cameroon like Manyu and the Far North.
This practice has consequences on female children such as severe pain and bleeding, shock, urine retention, ulceration of the genital regions, injury to the adjacent tissue, and death.
It contributes to the violation of children’s rights. It is against the Penal Code as it is assault.
The right of children to education is not fully protected in Cameroon. Cameroon has a good primary and secondary education system which has provided significant improvements in educational opportunities for children such as the opportunity to be learned.
The Cameroon National Commission for Human Rights and Freedoms which is the main enforcement mechanism of violations of children’s rights is impeded in its duty in this perspective.
This is due to two reasons. Firstly, the National Commission for Human rights and Freedoms is not independent of the government.
This is evident for the fact that the government appoints its key personnel and funds the commission. With this scenario, it becomes difficult for the commission to write ill about the government.
Serious violations of children’s rights are therefore not reported. Secondly, decisions of the commission relating to human rights violations are not binding. As such, it does not deter violation of children’s rights.
The questions which this research seeks to answer are:
What is the legal and institutional regime for the protection of children in Cameroon?
Is the protection of children’s rights in Cameroon effective?
What are the international instruments in the protection of children’s rights
What policy recommendations can be made to help Cameroon protect children’s rights?
1.4.1 General objective
The purpose of this work is to identify the rights of children and to elaborate or investigate the level of protection they benefit
1.4.2 Specific objectives
The specific objectives are:
- To examine the extent of the protection of the rights of the child in Cameroon,
- To explore the international conventions on the protection of the right of a child
- Critically examine the weaknesses of the Cameroonian law in the protection of children’s rights
- To make policy recommendations.