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LGBT rights in Cameroon

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LGBT rights in Cameroon
StatusIllegal since 1972
PenaltyUp to 5 years imprisonment and fines[1]
Gender identityNo
Discrimination protectionsNo
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Cameroon face severe challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents.[2][3] Both male and female kinds of same-sex sexual activity are illegal in Cameroon and LGBT people face prevalent discrimination among the broader population.[2][4] As of 2020, Cameroon "currently prosecutes consensual same sex conduct more aggressively than almost any country in the world".[5]


Bafia people[edit]

In 1921, German ethnographer Günther Teonmann quoted a local calling homosexuality a "national custom"[6][7][8] among the Bafia people in his book Die Homosexualität bei den Negern Kameruns. He later on described the three stages of life of a Bafia man, namely:[9]

  • kiembe, men who did not have any sexual relationships with women. It starts around 15 years old.
  • ntu, men who had sexual relationships with women.
  • mbäng, fathers, men who have children.

Kiembe boys were prohibited to have sexual and social contacts with prepubescent girls at the risk of being tortured or enslaved; there was a fierce competition to get the available women. The only option left of those kiembe men was to develop a close male sexual friendship with a lexan, a kiembe boy of a younger or of the same age who is in the same situation, where they would often engage in ji’gele ketön, anal penetration.[10] Before the sexual act, one of the boy would ask the consent of the other person by showing them a basketry plate of earthnuts and say that if they eat one, they consent. This metaphor symbolized the apparent dirtiness of a nut coming from the ground but become sweetness of it upon tasting. These acts could happen anytime, at any place (such as at one of the boys' home) and were seen as normal. For instance, it wasn't rare for a father to come back home to witness his son performing a sexual act and to laugh it off.[11]

The kiembe and his lexan would help each other to abduct a woman and share her, regardless of her marital status, with the other kiembe people of the settlement so they could all become ntu. This event is seen by many as a turning point that will make the young man win over heterosexual relationships. However, some still continue to be in same-sex relations.[11]

Upon reaching the mbäng stage, the father would often name his newborn after the lexan, regardless of the baby's gender.[9]

Same-sex relations were also seen as the logical extension of intimate adult friendships.[8][6]

Laws regarding consensual same-sex sexual acts[edit]

Cameroon’s first Penal Code, enacted in 1965, did not criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts. An ordinance issued in September 1972 by President Ahmadou Ahidjo introduced Article 347bis (now 347-1). This amendment took place a few months after the advent of the unitary state under the new constitution, when the National Assembly had not yet been elected.[1]

The Law on Cybersecurity and Cybercrime (Law No. 2010/012 of 21 December 2010) criminalises online same-sex sexual propositions.[1] Under Article 83(1) any person who makes sexual propositions to a person of their sex through electronic communications shall be punished with imprisonment of one to two years and a fine of 500,000 to 1,000,000 CFA francs or only one of these two penalties. Under Article 83(2) it is established that the penalties are doubled when the proposals have been followed by sexual intercourse.[12]


In May 2005, 11 men were arrested at a nightclub on suspicion of sodomy, and the government threatened to conduct medical examinations to "prove" their homosexual activity. As of February 2006, nearly all were still being detained, with trials scheduled in March 2006.[13][needs update]

The Advocate estimates that in 2011, at least a dozen men were deatined under Section 347.[14] One of these, Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, was arrested by security forces for sending SMS messages to male acquaintance and sentenced to three years' imprisonment at Kondengui Central Prison.[15] The sentence was protested by international human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International,[15] the latter of which named him a prisoner of conscience.[16] On 24 November 2011, three young men were sentenced to five years' imprisonment for having oral sex in a parked car.[17]

In November 2011, a Cameroonian court convicted two young men who had been arrested for homosexuality outside a nightclub based solely on their appearance and behavior to five years' imprisonment. The presiding judge stated that the way they spoke and their having worn women's clothing and ordered a cream-based liquor was sufficient evidence for homosexuality. An appeals court later overturned the verdict.[18][19]

In February 2021, two Cameroonian transgender women spent five months in prison after being arrested on February 8 for "wearing women's clothing in a restaurant" in the country's largest city, Douala.[20][21] The two women were later convicted of "attempted homosexuality, public indecency, and failing to carry identification."[21] A judge ordered the pair, named Shakiro and Patricia, to be released "until a court could hear their appeals."[21] The women received five-year sentences for these crimes.[21] Douala's main prison is described as "hell" by prisoners accused of homosexuality.[21]

UK asylum cases[edit]

A gay Cameroonian man was granted the right to claim asylum in the United Kingdom due to his sexuality in early July 2010. Cameroon's Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, responded to the court's action by acknowledging that homosexuality was definitely illegal in Cameroon, but also arguing that homosexuals were not prosecuted for their private activities. He dismissed the asylum-seeker's claims, saying that the man had nothing to fear from the law: "Do you think he is the only gay person in Cameroon?"[22]

In August 2011, a gay Cameroonian man was granted temporary immigration bail from the UK Border Agency after Air France refused to carry him to Yaoundé.[23] In May 2012, the UK Border Agency sought to return asylum-seeker Ediage Valerie Ekwedde, finding "no credible evidence" that he was gay, but was forced to keep Ekwedde in custody after he threatened to "make a fuss" on the Air France flight returning him to Cameroon.[24]

Living conditions[edit]

Cameroon is a conservative society in which homosexuality is frowned upon. In 2006, a number of tabloids published the names of at least 50 very prominent people they claimed were homosexual. They condemned them for deviant behaviour. The stories boosted newspaper circulation, but were criticized by the state communication council for invading people's privacy. The campaign provoked a national debate about gay rights and privacy.[25] The wave of suspicion that followed the publications was greatly influenced by Christian teachings, particularly those of the Catholic church, as well as long standing suspicion of European secret societies such as the Freemasons. The president at the time, Paul Biya, publicly encouraged respecting the privacy of others but at the same time began to prosecute people accused of engaging in homosexual activity. Few lawyers are willing to defend the accused.[26]

A Cameroon court jailed Jean Pierre Amougou Belinga for four months for defaming Grégoire Owona, a government minister named in the list of 50 presumed homosexuals in Cameroon.[27]

The US Department of State's 2010 Human Rights Report found that homosexual people "generally kept a low profile because of the pervasive societal stigma, discrimination, and harassment as well as the possibility of imprisonment. Gays and lesbians suffered from harassment and extortion by law enforcement officials. False allegations of homosexuality were used to harass enemies or to extort money."[28] In 2012, the first association for lesbian and queer women, World Queens, was founded.[29]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (5 years imprisonment[1])
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (Incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Mendos, Lucas Ramón (2019). State-Sponsored Homophobia (PDF). Geneva: ILGA. p. 312.
  2. ^ a b "Cameroon". Human Dignity Trust. Retrieved 22 November 2023.
  3. ^ "Cameroon: Rising Violence Against LGBTI People". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 22 November 2023.
  4. ^ Mendos, Lucas_Ramón (2019). "State-sponsored Homophobia" (PDF). ILGA. pp. Page_312.
  5. ^ Gloppen, Siri; Rakner, Lise (2020). "LGBT rights in Africa". Research Handbook on Gender, Sexuality and the Law. Edward Elgar. p. 196. ISBN 9781788111157.
  6. ^ a b Stephen O. Murray; Will Roscoe (3 February 2001). Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands: Studies in African-American Homosexualities. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-312-23829-2.
  7. ^ "When the question is put to a Bafia as to whether he, too, engaged in homosexual relations, it is answered immediately in turn with the question: 'Am I expected to give up my national custom?’”
  8. ^ a b Anthony Appiah; Henry Louis Gates (2005). Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. Oxford University Press. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-19-517055-9.
  9. ^ a b Stephen O. Murray; Will Roscoe (3 February 2001). Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands: Studies in African-American Homosexualities. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-312-23829-2.
  10. ^ Stephen O. Murray; Will Roscoe (3 February 2001). Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands: Studies in African-American Homosexualities. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-312-23829-2.
  11. ^ a b Stephen O. Murray; Will Roscoe (3 February 2001). Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands: Studies in African-American Homosexualities. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 154. ISBN 978-0-312-23829-2.
  12. ^ Loi n°2010/012 du 21 decembre 2010 relative a la cybersecurite et la cybercriminalite au Cameroun.
  13. ^ "Cameroon jails two men for gay sex" PlanetOut Network. 28 February 2006. Accessed 1 March 2006.
  14. ^ "A Lone Activist Crusades for Change in Cameroon". The Advocate. 28 November 2011. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  15. ^ a b David Smith (9 June 2011). "Campaign to free Cameroon man jailed for homosexuality". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  16. ^ "Prisoner of Conscience, Imprisoned for Homosexuality". Amnesty International. 2011. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  17. ^ "Cameroon jails men over gay sex". BBC. 24 November 2011. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
  18. ^ "Cameroon court acquits 2 men imprisoned for 'looking gay'". CNN. 10 January 2013.
  19. ^ "Cameroon 'gay sex' men acquitted". BBC News. 7 January 2013.
  20. ^ "Cameroon: Regions, Major Cities & Towns - Population Statistics, Maps, Charts, Weather and Web Information". www.citypopulation.de. Retrieved 3 August 2021.
  21. ^ a b c d e "Transgender woman in Cameroon describes 'hell' of five months in prison". Reuters. 16 July 2021. Retrieved 3 August 2021.
  22. ^ "Cameroon denies homosexuals face persecution", BBC News, 8 July 2010.
  23. ^ "Air France refuses to carry deported gay Cameroon man from UK", Radio France Internationale, 10 August 2011.
  24. ^ "'Gay' man's deportation from UK to Cameroon halted". BBC News. 5 May 2012. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
  25. ^ "Row over Cameroon 'gay' witchhunt" BBC News. Updated 6 February 2006, 11:43 GMT Accessed 7 February 2006.
  26. ^ Awondo, Patrick; Geschiere, Peter; Reid, Graeme (2012). "Homophobic Africa? Toward A More Nuanced View" (PDF). African Studies Review. 55 (3): 145–168. doi:10.1017/S0002020600007241. ISSN 0002-0206. JSTOR 43904852. S2CID 145161021.
  27. ^ Cameroon gay list publisher jailed Archived 12 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine Ninemsn. Saturday 4 March 09:23 AEDT.
  28. ^ "2010 Human Rights Report: Cameroon" (PDF).
  29. ^ World Queens, le lesbiche del Camerun fanno rete Il grande colibrì: 24 November 2012. Accessed 1 December 2012

Further reading[edit]

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