Baka Pygmies Want Civil Status Registry

By Emmanuel Kendemeh, Cameroon Tribune, 18 June 2003

They were speaking during a recent visit by the Minister of Social Affairs to the pygmy settlement at Mayos, Upper Nyong Division.

Baka pygmies dispersed in settlements deep inside the forest in Upper Nyong Division of the East Province are gradually understanding the need for complete social integration. For this to happen, they have equally come to the full knowledge that their rights to get registered in the civil register at birth and the subsequent right to nationality and education are fundamental.

It was with this yearning desire that the spokesperson for Baka children, Agna Jean Bosco was very vocal during the launching ceremony of activities marking the celebration of the 13th edition of the Day of the African Child. Agna, eleven years old and a class six pupil told the Minister of Social Affairs, Cecile Bomba Nkolo who launched the activities at Mayos last June 10, that the Bakas want a special civil status registration centre.

He also requested more schools from government, and expressed the desire to see the already existing schools equipped with qualified teachers and didactic material. The needs expressed, came to add to their other pressing problems of proper health care, housing, roads and social segregation. Even in the ceremonial grounds the Baka pygmies underwent discrimination. They had to occupy one part of the place, and more so Bantou children presented a sketch on the importance of birth certificates in an event organised to honour pygmies. It was only after they protested that their school pupils were allowed to present a song during the event and equally joined the Minister to take a family picture.

The pygmies need to be encouraged and assisted in their quest for social integration. This needs tact, according to the Director of Plan Cameroon, Prem Shukla. Plan Cameroon, a children centred NGO has been working to alleviate the educational, health and other basic difficulties of the Baka pygmies for six years. The pygmies, Prem Shukla said have much to offer us, we owe them respect and consideration, and have to understand and be open to them. He also said that the pygmies need to be treated as equals and a positive image given to their knowledge, talents and potentialities as a way of effectively supporting them in their integral development efforts. This approach is vital in order to gradually cajole them from the life of wanderers in the vast forest in search of honey and game.

Considering the birth certificate, a basic document that paves the way to other rights, the pygmies are ignorant of its existence and importance. Even if they succeed in getting birth certificates established for their children, the problem of conservation comes up considering the nature of their huts. Their culture does not permit births of children to be declared easily. This is because when a woman is pregnant the husband obliges her to go and live with her parents only to come back some months after giving birth. The National coordinator of the rights of the child and education in Plan Cameroon, Ngamo Kameni Bernard said that following a recent survey more than 98 per cent of Baka children do have birth certificates.

When Agna Jean Bosco appealed for a Baka special civil status registration centre, no one could be left indifferent. The nearest civil status registration centre to the pygmy settlement is found at Dimako town. Pygmies do not feel at ease to trek to Dimako and queue up in front of this centre in quest of birth certificates for their children. Civil status officials need to go closer to pygmies for sensitisation, be available and equip the centre with necessary material.