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Cameroon - Religion

The US government estimates the total population at 23.7 million (July 2015 estimate). According to the 2005 census, the most recent available, 69 percent of the population was Christian, 21 percent Muslim, 6 percent animist, and less than 5 percent Jews and Bahais. Of Christians, approximately 38 percent are Roman Catholic, 26 percent Protestant, 4 percent other Christian denominations, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, and less than 1 percent Orthodox Christian. There are growing numbers of Christian revivalist churches.

Cameroonians often have recourse to traditional methods of diagnosis and treatment. Many ailments are attributed to witchcraft or malevolent spirits and must be dealt with by magical acts and sacrifices. Many people wear amulets or charms as a precautionary measure. Muslims often carry verses of the Koran written on a piece of paper inside a small leather bag; the selling of such amulets provides Koranic teachers and healers with an important source of income. Drinking the water that has been poured over Koranic verses written on a prayer board is also believed to have curative powers.

Herbalists put vegetable poultices on abrasions and wounds. In the western highlands hundreds of different herbal medicines are said to be in use. Medicine men are usually known as specialists for a specific ailment, such as stomach aches, headaches, or barrenness in women. These ailments are treated with one or two herbs cultivated in the practitioner's garden. A favorite remedy used by traditional medicine men is to rub medicinal powders into a cut made over the affected area of the body. Horns of an antelope are often used as sucking cups to extract splinters or other foreign bodies from the patient. People with physical ailments frequently alternate between traditional and modern doctors.

The practice of witchcraft, defined as any act of magic or divination liable to harm another person or property, is a criminal offense under the national penal code. The Government distinguishes between witchcraft and indigenous religious practice, and there were said to be no cases of witchcraft trials that impinged upon indigenous religious belief.

Witchcraft is widespread in Cameroon, although it is considered an offense under section 251 of the Cameroonian penal code. Two other provisions of the penal code [translation] "state that witchcraft may be an aggravating factor for dishonest acts". A person convicted of witchcraft may face a prison term of 2 to 10 years and a fine of 5,000 to 100,000 CFA francs [between US$10 and US$250], and the decision is left to the judge's discretion, [translation] "which, without evidence, is often based on the statements made in court, which, of course, can lead to many errors".

Mounyol Mboussi, author of the book Sorcellerie en justice au Cameroun, explained that Cameroonian legislation does not define [translation] "witchcraft" clearly enough, which complicates the judges' task. An article in the Cameroon Tribune reports that Mounyol Mboussi, [translation] "president of the court of first instance of Vina in Ngaoundere," supports an overhaul of Cameroonian legislation dealing with witchcraft, which [translation] "does not exist from a legal standpoint".

Afrik.com quotes a representative of the justice minister, who stated that there may be 10 to 20 witchcraft trials per month in some regions (26 Aug. 2004). Some people are charged with witchcraft out of vengeance or by [translation] "slander" (Afrik.com 26 Aug. 2004). The judge is ultimately responsible for making the distinction between [translation] "true" and [translation] "false" witches (ibid.). The judge relies largely on testimonies (ibid.). Often, the [translation] "witch" is already considered guilty by the community or village from where the charges stem (ibid.).

The greatest impetus for change among the Pahouin peoples was provided by the Christian missions and the modern education they offered. Before the introduction of Christianity traditional religion had been tied to a narrow world of kinship and village and to the concept of an unchanging universe dominated by forces that could at best be appeased but not mastered. Modern education promoted a rational outlook by attempting to explain natural phenomena. It opened up vistas of transformation and progress.

Presbyterians from the United States first came to Pahouin country in 1875, settling among the Boulou. The Roman Catholics arrived some- what later and settled farther inland; they concentrated earlier than other denominations on educating an African clergy. In modern times most Pahouin are at least nominally Christian, even though certain features of traditional beliefs, such as in witchcraft and spirits, survive. In the entire country, Christian churches claim close to 2 million members, of which one-half to two-thirds are estimated to be Roman Catholics. Protestants are more numerous in the west, and Roman Catholics predominate in the east.

Muslims are found mostly in the north, but Muslim communities have formed in southern cities. Close contact with their Muslim masters has not failed to produce converts among the vassals and servants of the Fulani. The more enterprising non-Muslims perceive conversion as a means of upward social mobility, especially those whose own social structures had been weakened or destroyed. In time, they adopt Islamic principles regarding family organization, which differs in many respects from traditional African forms. Generally, there were three effects: the importance of lineage is reduced; the emphasis on male dominance increases; and polygyny is limited to four wives. Marriage becomes a civil contract between two persons and not, as hitherto, between two families. The ceremony is performed before witnesses in the presence of a mallam, who is able to read and write classical Arabic and has some knowledge of Muslim laws. Marriage payments are small and are given directly to the bride. Therefore, it is easier for a Muslim to set up his own household than for a non-Muslim, who must make large payments to the bride's family.

Boko Haram carried out increasingly violent and frequent attacks against civilians, government officials, and military forces, and threatened populations in the Far North Region. The attacks against civilians were indiscriminate and included killings and kidnappings of Muslims and Christians. The insurgents burned down places of worship. While there are no accurate estimates of total numbers killed and kidnapped, according to the Ministry of Defense, Boko Haram killed hundreds of police, military, and gendarmes. Estimates of the total numbers of civilians killed vary, but number in the thousands.

It was reported on July 17, 2015, that Cameroon’s Far North Region instituted a ban on July 15 against women wearing burkas (a covering for the face and the whole body) and veils that cover the face. The ban comes in the aftermath of two suicide bombings, said to have been instigated by Boko Haram, an Islamic militant group based in Nigeria, carried out by women who smuggled the explosives under their veils. At least 14 people were said to have been killed as a result of the two attacks.

Muslims and Christians live in every region, although Christians are concentrated primarily in the southern and western regions. Large cities have significant populations of both groups. The two Anglophone regions are largely Protestant, and the five southern Francophone regions are mostly Catholic. In the three northern Francophone regions, the dominant Fulani (or Peuhl) ethnic group is predominantly Muslim, but in general the population in this area is fairly evenly divided among Muslims, Christians, and followers of indigenous religions. The Bamoun ethnic group of the West Region is predominantly Muslim. Many Muslims, Christians, and members of other faiths also adhere to some aspects of animist beliefs.

The constitution establishes the secular nature of the state and its neutrality with respect to all religions, prohibits religious harassment, and provides for freedom of religion and worship.

The law on freedom of association governs relations between the government and religious groups. The government must approve religious groups or institutions as a prerequisite for lawful operation. Although the law prescribes no specific penalties for operating without official recognition, the government may suspend the activities of unregistered groups. The government does not require indigenous religious groups to register, characterizing the practice of traditional religion as a private concern observed by members of a particular ethnic or kinship group or the residents of a particular locality.

To become an authorized entity, a religious group must legally qualify as a religious congregation, defined as “any group of natural persons or corporate bodies whose vocation is divine worship” or “any group of persons living in community in accordance with a religious doctrine.” The religious group must submit a request for authorization as a religious group, including the group’s charter describing planned activities, the names and functions of the group’s officials, and a declaration of commitment to comply with the law on freedom of association, to the relevant divisional (local level) office. That office forwards the documents to the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization (MINATD). MINATD reviews the file and sends it to the presidency with a recommendation to approve or deny. Authorization may then be granted by presidential decree. Official authorization confers no general tax benefits but allows religious groups to receive real estate as a tax-free gift for the conduct of their activities and to gather publicly and worship. It also permits missionaries to receive visas with longer validity. In practice unauthorized religious groups may gather publicly and worship under a policy of “administrative tolerance” as long as public security and peace are not disturbed.

MINATD may issue an order to suspend any religious group for “disturbing public order,” which is not defined in the law. The president may dissolve any previously authorized religious organization that “deviates from its initial focus.” The Ministry of Basic Education and the Ministry of Secondary Education require private religious schools to comply with the same curriculum, infrastructure, and teacher-training standards as state-operated schools. Unlike public schools, private schools may offer religious education.

The government took no action to adjudicate applications for legal status by a number of religious groups whose applications had been pending for years. The government has approved only one religious group in the last 16 years and none since 2010. According to MINATD, incomplete application submissions and lengthy background investigations contributed to approval delays. Although by law groups must register, the government continued to allow numerous unregistered small religious groups to operate freely under the government’s policy of “administrative tolerance.” While 47 religious groups were legally registered, hundreds more operated without official government authorization.

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