Last Updated 10 November 2016

The Republic of Cameroon is, constitutionally, a democratic sovereign state in the west central Africa region, with a population of 23.1million. Densely populated cities in the south contrast strongly with sparsely populated rural areas in the north, touched recently by the insurgency of Boko Haram and refugees from the Central African Republic. The current President has been in office since 1982. Cameroon is a member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Cameroon is a secular state, to the degree that “the neutrality and independence of the State in respect of all religions shall be guaranteed”, and guarantees “freedom of religion and worship… freedom of communication, of expression, of the press, of assembly, of association”.

There is no official state religion, however Christian and Islamic holy days are celebrated as national holidays; government ministers or the president often attend religious ceremonies on these days; state sponsored TV and radio regularly broadcast religious services.

Education and children’s rights

Christian churches (particularly) play a central role in the provision of education. The government gives an annual subsidy to all private primary and secondary education institutions, including those operated by religious denominations. There are also several religious universities.

In religious schools, religious observance and worship are integral to children’s education One Catholic Diocese puts it as follows:

“Secular education is not possible in its best form unless religion is the central, vitalizing and coordinating factor in the life of the child.”
— <>

The Ministry of Basic Education and the Ministry of Secondary Education works to ensure that the standard of education at religious schools adequately meets that of regular state schools. In state schools religious education is not compulsory. There is no evidence of alternative humanist education being offered.

Family, community and society

According to a 2005 census, Cameroon has a dominant Christian majority (69%), living primarily in southern and western regions. Of these Protestants dominate in the former British territory, and Roman Catholics the former French  territory. Muslims (21%) can be found in both major cities and in the North: Muslims have shown little enthusiasm for militant Islam.  Animism still exists in rural areas and maybe more widespread than the 6% reported in the census.

There are no known humanist or atheist groups active in Cameroon.

The law requires religious groups, other than “traditional, indigenous” religions to register and seek governmental approval. Lengthy administrative processes have created a backlog in registration, with no new religious groups having been registered since 2010.  However, many religious groups operate freely without authorisation. The government, in 2013, closed (for a two-year period) several Pentecostal churches following reports of a pastor who had tried “to cast out demons” of a 9-year old child. Allegations of ‘witchcraft’ are taken seriously; levelling such accusations is a criminal offense and those charged are liable to receive a 2 to 10 year prison sentence.

In some Muslim communities, Sharia law is viewed as a part of the common law or local customary law, and has significance in family and cultural events. (Comparative and International Justice Systems, Third Edition Ed: Obi N.I. Ebbe)

There is no evidence of secularists being the subject of discrimination on account of their non-belief, but secularists who promote other-than-orthodox Christian teaching on family and relationship issues, can find themselves the victim of both government and churches strong responses (see reference to LGBT community below).

The practices of “breast ironing” and female genital mutilation (FGM) are both widespread.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Cameroon has been widely criticised for the behaviour of its security services (police and army, included). The most recent report, by United Nations in October 2015, is linked to the responses to the civilian population following attacks by Boko Haram.

However there are long-standing concerns of human rights abuses, documented by Amnesty International, in relation to torture and abuse, particularly of detainees and prisoners; denial of fair and speedy public trial; and life-threatening prison conditions.

Human rights defenders are amongst those known to have been subject to significant restrictions. There are serious issues relating to freedom of speech and expression.  Journalists investigating corruption are known to have been arrested by security services, held for questioning and in some cases imprisoned for “defamation”. In a 2012 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of free speech and expression stated that the “criminal defamation laws are inherently harsh and have a disproportionate chilling effect on free expression. Individuals face the constant threat of being arrested, held in pre-trial detention, subjected to expensive criminal trials, fines and imprisonment, as well as the social stigma associated with having a criminal record.”

Cameroon has a very low level of media freedom, with a rating of 6 (7 being the worst) from Freedom House. Cameroon is one of the only countries in the world that requires national newspapers to submit articles to the state before publishing for approval.

There are numerous reports of vigorous societal and systemic discrimination against real and perceived members of the LGBT community, with homosexuality deemed a punishable offense under section 347 of the Cameroonian Penal Code. Human rights defenders and family members supporting or representing members of sexual minorities are routinely harassed, threatened with violence, in some cases by people thought to be government agents.  This culture of intimidation and fear is often propagated by particular religious leaders. In December 2012 the Catholic Archbishop of Cameroon stated that same-sex unions are a “crime against humanity”. This type of rhetoric has contributed to the spread of societal vigilantism and violence with seeming impunity.

Highlighted cases

In 2005, the founder of the Cameroon Freethought Association, Alex Mbom, was sent into hiding, after being arrested and held without explanation, and later beaten and robbed of his freethought materials.

Support our work

Donate Button with Credit Cards
whois: Andy White WordPress Theme Developer London