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Meet Cameroon’s Children Born of War

By May 14, 2023June 14th, 2023No Comments
The war in Southern Cameroons has had devastating consequences on the children there.

Nain Nasah,15, (not her real names), had closed from school and rushed to assist her mother in Muteff, a village situated in Fundong in the Boyo Division of the North-West Region of Cameroon. As is the tradition in the Grass field areas of Cameroon, female children of school-going age always join their mothers in the farms after school each day.

Knowing that it was getting late, Nain’s mother had quickly gathered some fuel wood, raw foodstuff and vegetables into a head load and asked her daughter to take them home and start preparing for dinner.  

As Nain meandered her way back through the forest galleries and farmlands, however, she was forcefully stopped midway home, blindfolded, and dragged into the bush by three heavily armed men twice her age. Initially, she wanted to shout but decided to hold her peace seeing a gun placed on her left ear. 

“Before the three joined in raping me one after the other, I had heard one of them proudly saying that I have always been turning down his advances and that today, he was going to see how I would run away from her,” recounts Nain. After raping her, she was abandoned near the bush and was later rescued by women returning from the farm that evening.  Nain’s parents decided to silently bear the burden of their daughter’s gang rape for fear of even more harm from her suspected rapists — suspected militia fighting to create a separate English state from Cameroon — could do. 

Three months after the brutal act, Nain started having fever and throwing out uncontrollably. It was then that the mother decided to take her to the healthcare centre of the community. To their greatest dismay, Nain was discovered to be pregnant. Five months later, she gave birth to a set of triplets. Being fatherless, the newborns were catered for by Nain’s mother, family members and benevolent community members.

In the war-torn regions of Anglophone Cameroon, a silent crisis is unfolding as an increasing number of children are being born. These innocent souls, often referred to as “Children Born of War,” face the heartbreaking reality of growing up without ever knowing their fathers. With each passing day, their number keeps rising, casting a light on the devastating consequences of armed conflict on families and communities.

Nain’s story is unfortunately all too common. Efosi Vivian was kidnapped by separatist fighters in Ekona, South-West of Cameroon on the grounds that she had a love affair with government soldiers. She was released two weeks after being held in captivity incommunicado.

“Each time the fighters went out to the battlefield and met with resistance from government forces, they came back and took turns in raping me, ” recounts a crestfallen Efosi, who later gave birth to a baby boy.

“When I was released, I had treated me tissue and blister wounds as well as general diseases.”

Government forces have also been accused of raping women and girls in the conflict zones of the North-West and South-West Regions. Emelda Fien was returning from the market in Bafmen, a village in Menchum Division, North-West of Cameroon when uniform officers who had mounted a checkpoint in the neighborhood stopped her and requested her identification papers. 

“When I told them I left them home, they asked me to follow them to their office. They said I was not going to leave until a family member comes with my identification papers,” Emelda tearfully narrated.

“As it was getting dark, one of them took me behind a house and raped me at gun point, before letting me go,” sh said. 

The following day, Fien was taken to hospital by her father. She was found pregnant. She suffered a series of complications during her pregnancy that  needed special attention from  Njinikom hospital but persistent road blocks and imposition of ghost town days in the communities by separatist fighters frustrated her attempts to seek improved medical attention.

“I almost lost my life in the process of giving birth under such delicate conditions to my set of twins although only one survived,” Fien said. 

Nain, Efosi and Fien are among the teeming number of mothers of children born of war in the conflict zones of the North-West and South-West Regions of Cameroon where a minority existentialist and deadly conflict has been raging since 2016. 

More than 500 children have been born to women and girls under the age of 20 because of rape committed by both state and non-state actors, according to Global Welfare Association (GLOWA), an NGO based in Bamenda that conducts research and documents cases of Children Born of War (CBOW) in the conflict zones of the Northwest and Southwest regions.

By extrapolation, it can be estimated that the conflict zones of Cameroon are now home to a new generation of over 1000 children born of war.

The findings also indicate that a staggering 89% of mothers whose children were born during the prolonged seven-year conflict, are unaware of and are unlikely to ever know the fathers of their children. Added to this, approximately 60% of children conceived through conflict-induced sexual encounters in Anglophone Cameroon lack birth registration certificates, constituting a fundamental violation of their rights. 

Many mothers of children born of war are weary of the fact that their children are growing up without paternity and legal birth registration.

“I am always saddened each time I think of the fact I will not have anything to tell my child if he grows up to ask the whereabouts of his father,” Victorine Ngum, a rape victim living in Nkwen, Bamenda says. 

“I don’t even know whether the military man who raped me that fateful ghost town day under the pretext I had no identification papers on me, is dead or alive,” she added. 

Like Victorine, Mofa Yvonne in Kwa-Kwa village in the Meme Division of the South-West Region is worried over her inability to secure legal birth registration for her daughter. 

“Given the conditions under which I gave birth and the fact that there wasn’t anybody to support me, I faced difficulty following through the child’s birth registration. She is growing up without a birth registration certificate,” according to Yvonne.

Those of them who have been fortunate to establish birth registration for their children complain that the law compels them to leave the place reserved for father’s name, blank.

“Imagine the embarrassment I went through when I went to the Civil Status Registration Center and was asked who the father of my child was, and I could not answer,” Atem Ivolyne, a Mamfe resident in the Manyu Divsion of the South-West Region revealed. 

Astonishingly, some mothers of children born of war today see their children as dream killers and sources of misfortune, wishing that the conflict had never created such a chaotic predicament.

“Each time I think of how far I would have gone in my education if I didn’t have the misfortune of having an unwanted pregnancy, I feel like turning the anger on the innocent child,” Nimom Njang, a resident of Bamessing in the Ngoketunjia Division of the North West Region of Cameroon said.  

“My worry is the stigma I receive from members of the community each time I am strolling around with the kid. I imagine people pointing at me with their chins in a mocking manner,” narrates Lem Afu, a rape victim and mother of a child born of war in Guzang, Momo Division of the North-West of Cameroon.

Given the numerous challenges mothers of children born of war in the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon face and given the fact that most of them express the desire to pursue education or vocational training in order to take care of their children, the Director of GLOWA has been taking steps to see how these difficulties can be overcome.

“We have been working not only to identify and document the mothers of children born of war but also to make sure that the human rights of these innocent children are protected and promoted, including a legal adoption process that restores a sense of dignity to them,” says Jamils Richard Achunji, CEO of GLOWA.

An initiative dubbed “Promoting and Protecting the Rights of Children Born of War in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon,” aims to address the vulnerabilities faced by women and girls who have been held captive for domestic servitude and subjected to sexual exploitation by both State and Non-State Actors. 

The shocking revelations emerging from the children’s Born of War Project are merely the tip of the iceberg, illustrating the extent to which women and girls have suffered the consequences of the prolonged seven-year conflict in the former British Southern Cameroons and an urgent call for to end the war.

Colbert Gwain is a freelance investigative journalist, digital rights immigrant, radio host and multiple award-winning content creator @TheColbertFactor.

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