Within the village of Bafut, in Mezam Division of the North West Region of Cameroon, young female students on their way to school are raped on a daily basis. This results in a large number of teenage girls dropping out of school due to unplanned pregnancies and related infections.
The Center for Advocacy in Gender Equality and Action for Development (CAGEAD), is an organization that is working to empower young girls by providing an enabling environment for them to break the culture of silence and denounce perpetrators of rape. CAGEAD is forming and coordinating over 10 Gender and Human Rights Clubs in schools in this Sub-division. Through the Human Rights Clubs, CAGEAD provides information on human rights, women’s rights, civic education, public speaking and reproductive health. CAGEAD also offers psychosocial support and legal assistants to victims of such violence. Our overall objective is to enable young women to gain self esteem, challenge negative traditional beliefs, gain equality and effectively participate in public life to make responsible decisions concerning the development process in their community.
On May 7, 2014 at about 10:30am, two little boys of ages between 10 and 14 rushed barefoot into our school’s campus. They were hardly able to catch their breath as they reported that one of our female students was found raped and abandoned in a nearby forest on her way to school. When we arrived at the scene, we found out that the victim was not only raped, but her face mutilated and her ear cut off.
We rushed her to the hospital and immediately informed the mayor, school principal and the police. Our collaboration with Vital Voices Gender Based Violence Emergency Response Initiative strengthened us financially to provide psychosocial support for her. In collaboration with some members of the Bamenda Task Force on Trafficking in Persons, we were able to file a suit in the Mezam Court of First Instance against the perpetrator.
Since the victim had received training from us, she was able to denounce the rapist without fear of shame or cultural beliefs and stigmatization. Our collaboration with the victim and the traditional authorities and the Bamenda Task Force on Trafficking in Persons enabled a speedy arrest of the perpetrator. He was found guilty and given a non-negotiable eight years in prison with a fine of two million FRS CFA.
Although the hearing of this case took longer than expected because of bureaucracy, the outcome wass ground-breaking in the Bafut community. Young girls now feel free to participate actively in public because they know they are protected by law.
CAGEAD followed up with the victim while providing psychosocial support as she continues to rebuild her self-esteem, concentrates on her studies and passes the Ordinary level Certificate exams with 6 papers out of the 8. We understand that there is no way young girls can receive an education and actively and freely participate in public life when they suffer from gender-based violence. The magnitude of this problem is so great in the North West Region of Cameroon global attention is needed to scale up CAGEAD’s activities and increase the impact.