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Underreporting leaves girls in Cameroon vulnerable to rape

Global Press Institute - Mon, 27 Feb 2012 09:40 GMT
Author: Global Press Institute
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PART 8 IN A GLOBAL SERIES ON RAPE BUEA, CAMEROON - A 35-year-old mother, who declined to be named to avoid stigmatization of her family, says she was raped when she was 7. Her daughter was also raped at at age 3 and infected with syphilis. She says this is the first time she has told anyone that she was raped. Her daughter doesn't know that her mom or that she herself was raped. "I think history is repeating itself," the mother says. "And these two incidents, especially that of my daughter, have completely left me disturbed in my entire life." The mother grew up as an orphan in Mendankwe, a village in the Northwest region of Cameroon. Her father died when her mother was pregnant with her, and her mother died while giving birth to her. So she was raised by her uncle her in the village until age 7, when a maternal aunt came and took her to Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. She started attending a primary school in the metropolitan area that was about five kilometers away from her aunt's home. Her aunt dropped her off at school every morning and picked her up every afternoon. But one day, about three weeks after she enrolled, her aunt did not come to pick her up from school. "I couldn't go home alone because I did not know the way to the house," she says. "I stayed in school until places were dark, and I then decided to go to my aunt's office since I felt I knew where the office was." She walked a long distance to her aunt's office. As a child, she says she could not have imagined that her aunt would not be in the office at that hour. When she got there, the building was locked. Frustrated, she sat outside, hoping for a miracle. Soon, a tall man, who she estimates was older than 40, parked a beautiful car outside the building and asked her where she was headed. She says she felt relieved that at last God had sent someone to rescue her. "Joy ran through my heart that finally I have someone to take me home," she says with a tear running down her cheek. The man offered to take her home after she described the quarter in which she lived. But on the way, he stopped at a football stadium. He told her to step out of the car, that he was taking her home. "I told him that where he was taking me to did not look like the way to our house, but he said it was a shortcut," she says. She followed him into the football stadium, and he asked her to keep her mouth shut. He then told her that what he was about to do was a normal thing that all fathers do to their daughters at some point in their lives. She says he started kissing her everywhere. "I struggled, but because of fright, I couldn't shout," she says. Then, he raped her. "Before I knew it, I felt something hard trying to penetrate my vagina," she says, crying. "I felt a sharp pain. I shouted, he closed my mouth, and in a short while, he was done. At this point, I felt some wet stuff running down my legs, and he took me back to the car, drove me around our house and asked me to go home." She says she did not understand what had happened to her because at that time, she knew nothing about sex. But she says she was concerned about the pain she was feeling and the fact that she was returning home so late. When she got home, her aunt, offering no explanation for why she never picked her up, asked her how she managed to get home. She told her that she had trekked. "I rushed to the bathroom, took my bath, and dashed to the room and slept without eating a thing," she says. She says it never crossed her mind that she could report the incident to the police as she only realized what had happened when she started learning about reproduction in secondary school. Since it was years later, she figured she had no proof. She says the incident still pains her, though telling finally talking about it gives her a bit of relief. These days, she is more haunted that it did not only happen to her, but that it also happened to her daughter. "The case of sexual abuse to my daughter is something that lives with me every second of my life," she says, her voice strained. "I think about it during the day, before I go to bed and immediately I wake up from bed. I think about it every moment that I look at my daughter in the face." She says she had Mado, her daughter's nickname, now 14, when she was in secondary school. By this time, she and her aunt and uncle were living in Buea, the capital of Cameroon's Southwest region, because of their jobs. "It was the toughest moment of my life during and after pregnancy," she says. "My aunt grew so annoyed that she maltreated me for that. Even after giving birth to my child, my aunt did not love her. I don't blame her - she could not believe I was capable of doing such a thing." Mado grew up quietly in the house and started kindergarten at age 3. One day, her mother noticed that Mado began to pull back and cry whenever she washed her private parts during her bath. She says she eventually realized that little Mado's vagina was releasing an unpleasant vaginal discharge. She took her to the hospital. The doctor examined Mado and told her that Mado's hymen was broken. Further tests revealed that Mado was also infected with syphilis. "I couldn't believed what I heard," her mother says. After much questioning, Mado eventually said that a man at school who stays by the gate had put "a stick in her pee-pee." Her mother says there was only one man who worked at the school - the gatekeeper. She says she reported the matter to the proprietress of the school, but the man disappeared the next day. Sources told her that the proprietor had asked the man to stay away in order to maintain the image of the school. "I never saw the man again," Mado's mother says. "I don't even know where he ran to. I never heard anything about him anymore." She says she wanted to report the man, but her aunt refused to let her take legal action because she didn't want her name to be soiled in town. A neighbor had helped her to get a lawyer, but her aunt told them to forget about the case. The doctor prescribed medication to treat Mado's syphilis. She took the complete dose of the drugs twice, but both times there was no improvement. Rather, the vaginal discharge worsened. Finally, after eight months, the doctor said he has no other choice than to administer an adult dose of the drugs to the 3-year-old. This dosage worked, and Mado was finally healed. But her mother says this didn't mark an end to the incident. "Even though my daughter does [understand] this incident, I still feel much tensed about what she will do when she comes to know about it," she says. "She is 14 years today, in high school, and she tells me every day that she wants to keep her virginity until she gets married. She doesn't know how painful it is for me when she says these things." She says the worst moment came about a month ago. "My daughter told me that they have announced the administration of a vaccine to all virgins in her school, so she desired my consent to be vaccinated," she says. She says she felt so bad about how she could tell her daughter that she wasn't a virgin that she was unable to go to work the next day. She finally sought the help of her husband, who asked their daughter not to take any vaccine administered in school because it's not a hospital. She knows the day will come when they have to tell Mado that she was raped as a toddler. Underreporting of rape is especially an issue in Cameroon among child victims, who may not yet understand what sex or rape is to know to report it to parents or authorities. Doctors say it's important for victims to seek immediate medical attention so doctors can collect evidence and provide treatment. Lawyers encourage victims that the law is there to help them and that proceedings assure privacy. The Ministry of Women's Empowerment and the Family strives to raise awareness about child sexual abuse and to encourage victims' families to report rape instead of settling it within the home. Human rights organizations aim to provide counseling and financial assistance to assist families in the reporting process. The Cameroon Penal Code defines rapes as compelling any female, whether above or below the age of puberty, by force or moral ascendancy to have sexual intercourse. Beatrice Ndoping is a researcher at the Bamenda Women's Empowerment Center, one of many centers established across the country by the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and the Family to empower women and girls socially and economically. Ndoping lists the prevalence of rape among girls 18 and younger in Cameroon per region, based on a 2010 study by the German Technical Cooperation, now part of the German Society for International Cooperation. "Adamawa region, 3.8 percent," she says. "Center region, 3.9 percent; East region, 4.3 percent; Far North Region, 6.8 percent; Littoral, 4.3 percent; North region, 7.5 percent; Northwest region, 7.1 percent; West region, 5.5 percent; South region, 4.9 percent; and Southwest region, 4.3 percent." Still, she says the real numbers are likely much higher, as rape is often underreported in Cameroon. Dr. Bridgit Moki, a general practitioner at the Buea General Hospital says that because she did not directly handle Mado's case, she can't comment on her condition. "What I can say is that, Mado needs to be medically re-examined in order to know her present medical condition," she says. "Especially after the rape and after the adult dosage of drugs given her, she needs it." Moki says victims should report to the hospital within hours of the rape to enable doctors to examine them for bruises or swelling to determine whether there has been a rape. Victims receive medical treatment.   Victims should also report the incident to authorities, as lawyers say note that rape is a criminal offense punishable under the Cameroon Penal Code. Ebenezer Enwi, a lawyer with the Lang-Asih Law Chambers, a private law firm in Bamenda, represents rape victims. He says the courts are ready to prosecute and punish anyone who is found guilty of rape. "Rape is punishable under article 296 of the Cameroon Penal Code, with imprisonment of up to five to 10 years," Enwi says. The sentence is increased for perpetrators who rape minors under age 16, especially if they have authority over the victims, are a public servant or religion minister or are assisted by others, according to the penal code. "Sex with minor, with or without consent is considered as indecency," he says. "Consent is not mandatory to consummate the offense of indecency on minors." Enwi calls on victims of rape to report their cases. Otherwise, due process can't be followed. He says victims shouldn't worry about stigmatization if they deserve justice. Moreover, he says the proceedings strictly respect victims' privacy because trials for all rape cases are held in a closed court with just the judge and parties involved. "The law is to there to protect and not to scare," he says. The government also encourages victims to report incidents of rape. Judy Ngweh, the regional delegate of the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and the Family in Cameroon's Northwest West region, says that confronting sexual abuse and rape is one of the ministry's top priorities. "Our goal is to expose the rapists - let them face the law," she says. "Society tends to victimize the rape victim more than the rapists, of which it is not correct, so we are working hand-in-glove with human rights organizations and the legal departments to see into it that rapists are prosecuted and punished." Elizabeth Ngalla, a social worker for the Northwest Regional Delegation of the Ministry of Women's Empowerment and the Family, handles cases such as child sexual abuse and rape on a daily basis. She says less than 10 percent of rape cases in the Northwest region are reported because victims and their families fear stigmatization. "Even the few that come to us here are cases that have tried home settlements and failed," she says. Ngalla says experience has shown her that perpetrators are generally people who are close to the family or family members, such as, fathers, uncles, brothers, nephews and neighbors. She says this tie makes it even more difficult for victims to report rape. Instead, the victim's family tries to talk things out with the rapist or the rapist's family to come to a consensus. Most often, the rapist compensates the victim for damages. Sometimes, the rapist is forced to marry the victim. If the families can't resolve the matter amongst themselves, they then take it to the delegation, Ngalla says. But Ngalla says that reporting incidents is crucial to reduce cases of rape. "We are emphasizing for the need for the rapists to be denounced," she says. "As they remain in hiding, they continue to carry on their rotten activities. When they are denounced, rape will reduce." Human rights organizations are also involved. But representatives say money often gets in the way of justice for rape victims. Walters Mudoh, executive officer of Botfon Human Rights Watch, a Bamenda-based nongovernmental human rights organization, says the most extreme case he has handled in his eight years of advocating against human rights violations was the rape of a minor. "A girl, aged 13, living in the Menchum Valley, a village community in the Northwest, was returning from the market one day when she was harassed and raped by 9 Mbororo boys, a minority group in Cameroon, cattle rearers in the bush," Mudoh says. Mudoh says the little girl was taken half-dead to the hospital , where doctors were able to revive her. The girl's family brought the case to the organization because they couldn't afford to take it to court, but the organization also lacked the funds to investigate it fully. "All that we do in such cases is to offer counseling and financial assistance to such victims," Mudoh says. Mudoh says that deep-seated corruption also hampers justice for rape victims, as perpetrators may bribe authorities. Meanwhile, victims struggle to live with the pain. Mado's mother says the pain that rape has caused her is much more than the joy she has obtained from giving birth to her daughter. "The issue of rape coupled with the experiences lived has caused me to hate any man who is linked to the act," she says. "I get bubbled up with so much anger to the extent that I usually think that, if I was given the place to be a judge, I will condemn every male label with rape to life imprisonment or even death sentence." She says punishment must match the permanency of the pain from rape. "It is a stigma that never leaves one no matter how much you try to bathe yourself," she says. Read the original post here

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