Cameroon: Treatment of men who father children out of wedlock, including legal, religious and social consequences; whether they may face criminal charges (2004-May 2013) [CMR104453.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Consequences for Fathering Children out of Wedlock

Information about the consequences for men who father children out of wedlock was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the coordinator of the Yaoundé-based NGO Association de lutte contre les violences faites aux femmes (ALVF, Association for the Struggle Against Violence Against Women), described Cameroon as a [translation] "patriarchal society" where men "have control and dominate every aspect" (23 May 2013). Within this context, she explained that [translation] "having a child out of wedlock doesn't affect a man's life or situation in any way; at the most, what would be required is to take care of the child and mother" (ALVF 23 May 2013). The Secretary General of the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) in Cameroon, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, said that men in Cameroon "have no basic legal, social or religious consequences for fathering children out of wedlock" (FIDA 29 May 2013).

However, the coordinator of ALVF said that the man could face social, religious and legal consequences if the child's mother is underage (AVLF 23 May 2013). In terms of legal consequences, she indicated that the child's father could be prosecuted for defilement of a minor (ibid.). Information about the criminal punishment for defilement of a minor, or statistics regarding number of arrests and convictions, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. According to the US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012, Cameroon's laws do not specify a minimum age for consensual sex (US 19 Apr. 2013, 30).

In terms of social and religious consequences, the coordinator of ALVF said that the father would be obligated to marry an underage girl and provide a dowry, and that the girl's family might "force" him to do so (ALVF 23 May 2013).

According to the secretary general of FIDA, a married man who fathers a child outside wedlock is perceived "negatively" by society, and his wife loses respect (FIDA 29 May 2013). She said that in some cases, the father recognizes paternity of the child, but waits until societal gossip abates (ibid.). She noted that in some cases, the father might recognize and take custody of the child, bringing it into his wife's home, particularly if they were having difficulty conceiving a child (ibid.). She also said that a father might "sponsor" his child-out-of-wedlock, and that this was common in most religious families (ibid.). She said that sometimes Catholic men later recognize the child, but that most Muslim men prefer not to recognize the child (ibid.). She said that some Muslim men, in order to protect their image and marriage, abandon the child to the mother alone and stop associating with the mother (ibid.). This information could not be corroborated among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

2. Regional Variation

The coordinator also explained that there are differences in the treatment of men who father children out of wedlock depending on the social groups and regions where they live (ALVF 23 May 2013). In the Extreme-North region, the area in which she is most familiar, she said that it depends on whether the case is treated at the customary level or brought before court (ibid.). If treated at the customary level, the family of the mother will often demand a dowry and marriage (ibid.). If brought before a court, the father could be prosecuted for defilement of a minor (ibid.).

A study entitled Child Malnutrition in Cameroon: Does Out-of Wedlock Childbearing Matter? by Jacques B.O. Emina, a researcher affiliated with the African Population and Health Research Center, provides information about childbearing out-of-wedlock in different regions of Cameroon. It discusses differences in societal attitudes in different regions as follows:

Considering traditional values, out-of-wedlock pregnancy and childbearing were the most upsetting things that could happen to a young single girl and her family in major traditional societies except in the Tropical Forest People including Bulu, Beti-Fang, Bassa, Bafia, Douala living in the Centre, South, East and Littoral provinces (Ombolo, 1990; Emina, 2005). Tropical Forest People tolerated out-of-wedlock motherhood, presumably because of interest in women who had proven their fertility given high infertility and sterility in Central African countries. Fulfude and Kirdi people living in the Northern region, as well as Bamileke-Bamoun and Grassfielders ethnic groups’ tradition forbade out-of-wedlock childbearing which caused dishonor for family and was sanctioned heavily by communities. In these societies women had to be virgins at marriage, premarital childbearing [was] unacceptable and the consequences for defiance were severe. For instance, a single mother had an eventual risk of having no husband. In addition, her family could be sent to “Coventry” by the village (Bangha, 2003). Among Fulfude and Biu-mandara, a single woman who becomes pregnant must leave the highlands and find refuge in the plains, as far away as possible, and never return, not even for ordinary visits (Johnson-Hanks, 2003). Normative early marriage, rigorous supervision of young women, polygamy and strong negative sanctions in the case of infraction were social strategies to avoid premarital sex and its consequences. (Emina [2007], 3)

However, Emina also states that out-of-wedlock childbearing is "common" in Cameroon, particularly in urban areas and among educated women (ibid.). He provides 2004 statistics, taken from the Cameroon Demographic and Health Survey, of the proportion of women aged 15-49 who experienced their first birth out-of-wedlock in different regions as follows:

Region of residence Percentage of first birth out-of-wedlock
Yaoundé, Douala 33.1
Adamawa, North, Extreme-North 5.8
North-West, South-West 35.1
Littoral, West 20.4
Central, South, East 38.3


3. Rules Regarding Recognition of Paternity

Cameroonian state authorities, in a report submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, states "Order No. 81/02 on civil status contains provisions on the determination and recognition of paternity and punishes the abandonment of a child by a parent by imposing the payment of maintenance" (UN 22 Oct. 2009, No. 102). Part 5 of the Civil Status Registration (Order No. 81/02) provides the legal guidelines regarding children born out of wedlock, as follows:


Affiliation of illegitimate children


Recognition of children.

41. (1) a) The recognition or legitimation of a child born out of wedlock shall be established by court decision. The same shall apply to cases of adoption.

b) However, delivery shall be equivalent to recognition of the child by the mother, and marriage celebrated after recognition shall imply legitimation of the children recognized as born of the spouses.

(2) Recognition and legitimation, excepting adoptive legitimation shall be based on blood relationship. Once the relationship has been established, no one may raise objection to recognition.

(3) Court judgments on recognition, legitimation and adoption shall be inscribed as marginal notes on birth certificates.

42. Substantive conditions for adoption shall be those contained in the written law, except where there is provision to the contrary in the present Ordinance.

43. (1) A child born out of wedlock may be recognized by his natural father. In such a case, the mother shall be heard and if she is a minor, her parents too.

(2) However, a child born as a result of adultery on the part of the mother may be recognized by the natural father only after disavowal by the husband before a law court.

(3) Action to recognize a child born as a result of rape shall be inadmissible.

44. (1) a) Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 41 hereabove, recognition of children born out of wedlock may be done by declaration made before a civil status registrar during the birth registration.

b) In such a case, the declaration of the presumed father shall be accepted by the civil status registrar after the consent of the mother, and in the presence of two witnesses.

(2) The civil status registrar shall identify the parents of the child and shall transcribe the declaration into a register, numbered and initialed by the president of the court of the first instance, and kept for that purpose.

(3) Such declaration shall be signed by the father, the mother, the witnesses and the civil status registrar before the birth certificate is drawn up.

(4) If one of the parents is minor, his consent shall be given by the father, mother or guardian, consent shall be given verbally before the civil status registrar or in writing duly legalized and annexed to the register.

(5) The procedure provided for in the above paragraph shall not apply when there is a dispute and, especially, if paternity is claimed by several persons before the establishment of the civil status certificate.

45. Any recognition before a civil status registrar may be challenged before a competent court by any person claiming paternity over the same child.


The search for the real father.

46. (1) The mother of a minor or a person of full age may, through application before a competent court, bring action for the search of the real father.

(2) However, any action in search of the real father shall be rejected if during the legal period of conception, the mother led a loose life or had intercourse with another man or if the alleged father was physically unfit to be the father.

(3) Under pain of foreclosure, action in search of the real father shall be taken by:

(a) the mother within two (2) years from the date of delivery or when the father ceases to maintain the child;

(b) the child of full age, within one (1) year from the date of his majority.

(4) Judgments relating to the search for the real father shall be entered in the margin of birth certificates.


Parental power and the custody of illegitimate children.

47. Parental power over children born out of wedlock shall be jointly exercised by the mother and the father with whom the affiliation was legally established. In case of disagreement, it shall be exercise by the parent who has the effective custody of the child except the judge decides otherwise. (Cameroon 1981)

A 2011 article in the Cameroon-based monthly law journal Le Droit references Code 81/02 as the legislation in effect regarding recognition of paternity for illegitimate children (4 Dec. 2011). The FIDA secretary-general also referred to this Code as being in effect (FIDA 29 May 2013).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Association de lutte contre les violences faites aux femmes (ALVF). 23 May 2013. Correspondence from the coordinator to the Research Directorate.

Cameroon. 1981. Civil Status Registration. Ordinance No. 81-02 of 29 June 1981. [Accessed 27 May 2013]

Le Droit [Yaoundé]. 4 December 2011 "La reconnaissance et la légitimation." [Accessed 28 May 2013]

Emina, Jacques B.O. [2007]. Child Malnutrician in Cameroon: Does Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing Matter? [Accessed 23 May 2013]

International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA). 29 May 2013. Correspondence from the Secretary-General to the Research Directorate.

United Nations (UN). 22 October 2009. Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). "Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 44 of the Convention." [Accessed 27 May 2013]

United States (US). 19 April 2013. Department of State. "Cameroon." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012. [Accessed 28 May 2013]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Attempts to contact representatives of the following organizations were unsuccessful: African Population and Health Research Center; Reach Out; FIDA; Rural Women Development Centre; Cameroon – Ministry of Women's Empowerment and the Family, National Institute of Statistics; Professor at Université de Montreal.

Internet sites, including: Africa Confidential; AllAfrica;; Factiva; Jeune Afrique; La Nouvelle Expression; La Nouvelle Tribune; United Nations – Refworld.