The Cameroonian Penal code criminalises sex work through article 343. It states “(1) Any person of either sex who habitually engages, for compensation, in sexual acts with others, shall be punished with imprisonment for six months to five years and a fine of 20.000 (US$ 34.24) to 500.000 (US$ 856.11) francs. (2) Any person who publicly recruits individuals of either sex through gestures, words, writings or any other means, for purposes of prostitution or debauchery shall be punished with the same penalties.”
Despite a legal framework that criminalises prostitution, there have been no reported cases of sex workers being tried and convicted under the revised Article 343. As such, it appears that while sex work is not permitted by law, it is tolerated by authorities and communities within Cameroon. Nevertheless, sex workers are still experience higher risks related to their work in the form of violence and intimidation by clients and law enforcement.
During routine police checks, sex workers are often arrested on the grounds of not having an identification card. By paying a bribe of around 3,000 francs CFA, sex workers can buy their release from police custody. There have been a number of reports of sex workers in police custody who have been victims of sexual assaults including rape or being forced to have unprotected sex with an officer to ensure their release. Sex workers who move around in order to work are the most vulnerable to this type of exploitation and abuse by law enforcement as they do not have the security of premises to work from. In contrast, while Cameroon’s law enforcement failures with regard the policing of sex work continue to violate the human rights of sex workers, the country has made some progress in the fights against HIV/AIDS. Access to antiretroviral (ARTs) medicines has been improved with the decentralisation of the provision of ARTs. This combined with a stabilising HIV epidemic; meaning that the rate at which HIV is spreading is decreasing, has enabled Cameroun to claim some positive progress. For sex workers, progress means that they are now more likely to access treatment due to increased funding and targeting of most at risk populations.
While these are all positive developments, sex workers deplore the absence of specific interventions aimed at their male and transgender colleagues. Sex workers are calling for programmes which target male and trans sex workers to be more inclusive and to take into account the different needs of male and trans sex worker. Male and trans sex workers need more appropriate prevention information materials and technologies on HIV and STIs as well as access to non-stigmatising health services.