In the war-torn regions of the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons, a silent crisis is unfolding. An increasing number of children are being born as a result of rape, but the tragedy is, they may never know their biological fathers.
According to Global Welfare Association, (GLOWA), an NGO that conducts research and documents cases of Children Born of War (CBOW), both the armed forces and armed non-state actors in the war-ravaged regions are to blame for the rising number of CBOW. And because they may never know their biological fathers, these children face an uncertain future.
Crouched on a low, bamboo stool in a one-bedroom house in the Obili neighborhood in Yaounde, Clarise, 27, prepares dinner for her twin girls and her fiancé.
The twins, four years old, have just returned from school in a Catholic orphanage which takes care of orphans and underprivileged kids, many of whom have fled a raging conflict in the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons.
“Can you count from one to one hundred?” Clarise asks one of the kids. As the child, whose name translates to “God Acts,” excitedly begins to count, Clarise speaks to me, almost in a whisper.
“I don’t know their biological father … but I don’t care,” she says with a wry laugh.
Clarise used to live in Kumbo, the epicenter of the pro-independence violence. Five years ago, gunmen invaded her village, and she was one of the women in the village who was raped.
“I can’t recognize the men who raped me,” she says, her voice quavering.
“They were masked. And they were wielding guns. I wasn’t the only one who was raped. There were five of us who were raped, and two died,” she said, fighting back stubborn tears.
It’s a familiar scene across the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons, where a pro-independence war has been raging for six years now. Jane met a similar fate when soldiers stopped her and requested that she presents her National Identity Card. At 16, Jane didn’t need to have an ID Card to be able to move around.
“I told them I didn’t have one. One of them then dragged me behind the fueling station and raped me,” Jane says.
Human rights attorney, Felix Agbor Nkongho says rape is being increasingly used as a weapon of war in the region.
“Rape has always been used as a tool for war. That’s why the international Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda considered the rape of Tutsi women by Hutus as a crime against humanity and a war crime, and this is not different in Cameroon. There was a time in Manyu Division where there was mass rape of women. They could be my mother, they could your mother, they could be our daughters. There is no justification. It must stop.”
And the sexual violence has led to another crisis-less known but not less profound: the birth of children who may never know their biological fathers.
Jimils Richard Achunji of Global Welfare Association says the situation has become pervasive.
“We estimate that the children fathered by both the state security officers and non-state armed groups in these two regions within the last six years of the armed conflict are in their thousands. About 89% of the girls declared not knowing the real names of the men who got them pregnant. We also noticed that at least 70% of the mothers were less than 20 years old at the time they got pregnant.”
Clarise’s daughters like thousands of other children born of war may be exciting at their tender ages, but they have been born into a world of uncertainty.
“Within the families and the communities, these children continue to be stigmatized because of the circumstances under which they were born: tagging them as children of murderers who have blood in their hands. They might just grow up to truly be killers,” Achunji says.
The children might also grow up in families where they won’t be allowed to inherit anything. For Clarise though, what matters most is for peace to return, so that the healing process may begin.