A few people idle on the streets of Bamenda. PHOTO/ARISON TAMFU
Schools in English-speaking regions of Cameroon have been paralysed by months of unrest, but it is the young girls who are paying the greatest price. Investigative reporter ARISON TAMFU visited the volatile area and brings you the details.
By ARISON TAMFU
On a bright morning in April 2017, as Anglophone crisis intensified in Cameroon, Eyong was trekking through the forest to his farm in Ikata–a remoterural area in South West region of Cameroon–when he saw a teenage girl lying stranded in the forest. Lying beside her, he said, was a foetus.
“I immediately understood that she just aborted the pregnancy” narrated Eyong.
Eyong realised that the girl had taken herbs from a traditional doctor probably residing in the forest to terminate the pregnancy she definitely did not want.
Eyong struggled to rescue the young girl in vain.
“She died in my hands saying ‘tell my parents, I am sorry’” Eyong explained. He later identified the family of the deceased and her corpse was buried.
As a result of the shocking and dishonourable circumstances leading to her death, the family decided to conceal the real cause of her death to the world but now, for the very first time they are opening up however insist their identities must not be disclosed.
For days, the young girl’s father, a soft-spoken man in his early 50s, spent sleepless nights buried in sad memories of his little girl.
“She was just 14 years old. I could not believe it when the farmer told me of her death. Nobody knew she was pregnant. She always smiles” Tabot, the girl’s father said with a sense of despair.
She was a form four student preparing to write the G.C.E Ordinary-Level examination next year.
“She was very intelligent in school and remained indoors always but when schools stopped because of the Anglophone strike, she changed. She was no longer staying home and was idling in the neighbourhood with bad friends,” Tabot said adding that his daughter started entertaining impure relations with boys in the neighbourhood to his dismay.
“She became disobedient and arrogant. My daughter became idle and fell into the hands of the devil and died because schools were incapacitated by the strike,” he lamented.
The sad story of the 14-old-girl mirrors the depression and frustration of thousands of girl students in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon.
Schools shutdown in the two Anglophone regions (North West and South West) since October last year when Anglophone Cameroonians went on an indefinite strike action to denounce the marginalisation of Anglophones in Cameroon. The violent protest is still going. Thousands of school children deprived of education have been idling at home for over seven months now.
Alarming unwanted pregnancies
The majority of school girls in the Anglophone regions just like the young girl who died, are now more than ever before marching towards a puzzling future. Many of them are naively getting pregnant.
“The rate of teenage pregnancy is alarming. In my school alone, I know of not less than 25 girls below 17 years old who are already pregnant and have come to me for advice,” said Muluh, a manager of a school in Bamenda.
“I receive pregnant school girls almost every day who want to abort the pregnancy. It is a very serious problem. Some have died trying to do away with the pregnancy,” said Doctor Babi, a surgeon.
Statistics are not available but it is believed that approximately 20 percent of the thousands of school girls are now roaming the streets of Anglophone Cameroon with unwanted pregnancies.
Mildrate and Vivian are some of them.
Gripped with paranoia and unsure about the reaction of their parents, they fled their home when they discovered that they were pregnant. For two days, they have been living with strangers in a dilapidated two-room apartment located on the periphery of Bamenda.
“My parents will kill me if they discover that I am pregnant. I can’t go back home” said Vivian nervously.
“My parents had so much hope in me and have been working really hard to give me a bright future. I cannot stand to tell them in the face that I am pregnant,” said Mildrate.
Mildrate is 15 and Vivian is 16.Both are friends.
On a fateful day in late April this year, they were moving pointlessly in the streets of Bamenda.
“We stayed home all day long doing nothing because there is no school. It was very boring and we decided to go out and see the town and take fresh air” said Mildrate.
It was at that moment that two boys in their early twenties approached them.
“They invited us to take a drink and we accepted because they were also students like us,” said Vivian who was still a virgin by then.
Soon they were immersed in alcohol consumption and then romance. That day, Vivian lost her virginity.
An empty classroom in school in Anglophone regions of Cameroon following months of unrest. PHOTO/ARISON TAMFU
“Three weeks after, I was feeling sick and went to the hospital to consult. The doctor told me that I was pregnant” she said weeping hysterically.
“I discovered I was pregnant two weeks after” said Mildrate adding that she knows five of her school mates that are also pregnant.
For them, prolonged turbulence in the English-speaking regions caused them to indulge in obscene activity
“This will never have happened if we were going to school. We got bored staying home, doing household chores and staring out of the window for over six months” said Mildrate.
“My neighbours do not even know me well. I am always busy during school but now, I was loosed. This strike has destroyed my life” said Vivian sobbing.
But poverty has also caused young girls to reluctantly embrace moral decadence.
Businesses in the Anglophone regions of the country have been severely ruined by the unrest especially when government shutdown internet in the regions for over three months. With many people fleeing the regions, supply and demand of merchandise has substantially reduced. The immediate effect has been rampant poverty particularly for the destitute that make up over 80 per cent of the population in the Anglophone regions.
Poor parents sadly watched their girl children who are not going to school engross in immoral activities for financial gains.
Three Okada riders (commercial motorcyclists) discussing at the Commercial Avenue in Bamenda bragged that they now control the girls in town.
“We have money and they need money. So they give us what we want and we give them money. The girls are really cheap now” said one, speaking in Pidgin English.
“With just 500 francs CFA (1 US Dollar) you can have any girl of your choice in town now. They have not been going to school and things are hard. We see them idling everyday along the streets,” said the other one.
“I have impregnated two girls. I will soon be father of two children. All of them are in secondary school. I will do my best to take care of the children” said the last one, with his face glowed with pride.
A typical discussion that denigrates girls but such is now an ordinary way of life in Anglophone regions.
Anglophone Cameroonians tired of playing second-class-citizens in a country densely populated by Francophone’s decided to go on strike last year to demand for a federal system of government in which their rights and culture will be respected. Government remained adamant to their complaints and instead shot dead and incarcerated several of the protesters.
Many have fled Bamenda as the Anglophone crisis intensifies. PHOTO/ARISON TAMFU
Enraged by Government’s ruthlessness in solving a simple strike action, many Anglophones started demanding outright independence and restoration of their own country that existed when Britain was their colonial master. Troops were deployed in their numbers to stop the protest.
Since then, over 90 per cent of schools have remained closed affecting over a million school children. The school year ends early next month.
The G.C.E Ordinary and Advanced Levels exams are to begin next month. Cameroon’s Minister of Secondary Education, Jean Ngale Bibehe sent shockwaves across Cameroon May 10 when he affirmed that due to growing concerns, even those who didn’t register for the examinations should be allowed to write.
“Candidates who are prepared will write whether they were out of school or not. What we know is that the exams will remain credible,” he said.
A decision that stunned Mildrate and Vivian who are supposed to write the G.C.E Exams this year.
“How can we write exams when we did not study? I cannot write” said Vivian
“This government does not care about youths. A problem that they would have solved since has reached this level and they are now forcing us to write the G.C.E after frustrating our lives” said Mildrate.
“The on-going crises which is on its way to becoming a blank academic year for our children fundamentally questions our government’s ability to inclusively and democratically guarantee social cohesion and our national unity” said John Fru Ndi, Cameroon’s opposition leader. On May 20, Cameroon’s National Day, he asked his militants not to celebrate the event to show solidarity with Anglophones.A move that deepened division of the country.
With heavy military presence in Anglophone regions of the country and growing tension between Anglophones and Francophone’s, it is unclear if schools will resume even next academic year.
“We are worried about the morality of our children as they idle at home but we cannot send our children to school until justice is served to us Anglophones,” said a defiant Tabot.
“We will continue to fight for Federation and if possible Independence of Anglophone Cameroon. I have already lost my daughter because she was idling at home. I have nothing left now” he said.
“If the strike persists, the rate of teen pregnancy will double and the consequences will be devastating for the country now and in future. Some of those impregnating the young girls are the very policemen and gendarmes sent to crackdown on Anglophones. UN needs to intervene to save the future of our children especially the girls” said Doctor Babi.
Mildrate and Vivian hope to return home soon and plead for mercy from their parents.
“We will return soon. Hope they will forgive us and understand that it was not intentional” said Mildrate.
Two beautiful teenagers whose future now hangs in the balance because of prolonged unrest and government intransigence.
NB: As a result of government crackdown on Anglophones in Cameroon, the people interviewed in this report (except John Fru Ndi) opted for anonymity. Therefore, their names have been changed due to security reasons.
You can either BECOME A SPONSOR or MAKE A CONTRIBUTION
Nelson Mandela once said: “A critical, independent, and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”
If you like our journalism support us to continue bringing you groundbreaking and agenda setting stories.