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Sunday, June 4, 2023
Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Nov 4 2009 (IPS) - A countrywide survey of the incidence of rape in Cameroon has returned disturbing statistics: 20 percent of the nearly 38,000 women surveyed reported having been raped; another 14 percent said they had escaped a rape attempt.
Echoing findings elsewhere in the world, the survey, carried out in all ten of Cameroon’s regions by the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and Cameroon’s National Association of Aunties – RENATA, as it’s known, is an organisation of more than 10,000 teenaged mothers working against sexual violence – found most rapes were committed by people known to the victims.
“The rapists are family members, including fathers, or school teachers, pastors and priests, classmates, colleagues, friends and neighbours,” Dr Flavien Tiokou Ndonko, one of the researchers, told IPS. Family members were reported to be the assailants in 18 percent of cases. Nearly a quarter of those raped became pregnant as a result.
“These statistics cannot in any way show the full extent of rape in the country, because most victims never tell anyone they have been raped,” he added.
Justine is a young woman in her mid twenties living in the nation’s capital,Yaoundé. She regards all men with contempt, and does not imagine herself ever getting married. The reason: rape.
”After I had confessed my sins, the reverend father asked me to follow him to his house for ‘cleansing’. He told me to take a bath and lie on his bed, undressed, for cleansing. He said I was too dirty, he had to clean me well.
“I told him it was my first time of hearing such a thing. He started forcing me to make love to him. I was resisting, but he was stronger than me. So he finally succeeded in raping me.
“When he was through, he said I could leave because he had purified me. I had wounds in my vagina and anus. The worst of it is that he is the cousin of my uncle’s wife,” said Justine.
She was later to be raped again, this time by a nurse when she was four months pregnant.
“The nurse told me that as a pregnant woman, I needed to have sexual intercourse frequently to enable me to give birth without any problems. He succeeded in penetrating me,” she told IPS, wiping away a tear.
This is just one of the many disturbing tales told by the many rape victims in this Central African country.
Cameroon’s penal code states that “Whoever by force or moral ascendancy compels any female, whether above or below the age of puberty, to have sexual intercourse with him shall be punished with imprisonment for from five to 10 years.”
It further makes it illegal for a man to have sex with a woman under 16 years of age even if she consents to such intercourse.
Despite these laws, few perpetrators of rape are ever prosecuted in Cameroon.
“For the three times I was raped, I did not tell anyone, not even my mother. I did not report the case to the police or to court. Doing so could have led to a sort of public disgrace, and I hate being open to such public shame,” Justine told IPS.
In addition to this fear of social stigmatisation, and concern over family unity, loopholes in the law help deny rape survivors justice in Cameroon.
Section 297 of the penal code, for instance, prevents prosecution for rape when marriage has been freely consented to by the parties involved, as long as the woman assaulted is over the age of puberty at the time of the offence.
A separate study jointly carried out by the GTZ and RENATA, titled “Constraints in Seeking Justice for Rape Victims in Cameroon”, revealed that of the 33 reported cases between 2004 and 2007 at the Bamenda High Court, in Cameroon’s North West region, “only two of them were sentenced, 22 were struck out (cancelled) as lacking evidence, eight cases were discharged on grounds of simple threats, while one was withdrawn”.
The report further indicates that the procedures for getting legal redress are too cumbersome and take too long, essentially because of “the need for preliminary investigations, from the police and/or hospital to the legal department, before getting to court”.
In the course of these lengthy procedures, the report says, “most victims encounter lots of interventions and negotiations whereby the case is stopped or withdrawn before justice is rendered.”
Constraints such as a lack of counselling for survivors and accused, lack of specialised judges for rape cases, the high cost of court action and administration, as well as threats from the accused, all combine to make justice for rape survivors a privilege, not a right in Cameroon.
According to Patience Siri Akenji, the legal consultant who supervised the study, what happens in the Bamenda High Court is a microcosm of what happens in courts across the country.
She suggests the legal system be improved to make deadlines applicable to judicial officers to prosecute. Specific laws should also be enacted to protect rape victims.
She also recommends that court sessions be held in the magistrates’ chambers for the protection of rape survivors, away from the pressure of the court room, and as a way to uphold the dignity of the victim.
“This will encourage the reporting of these cases, and encourage cooperation, leading to rapid intervention in rape cases,” says Akenji.
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