Cameroon: more details emerge on ‘Holy Salam' cult
By YUH TIMCHIA in Yaoundé | Thursday, March 14 2013 at 13:13
The governor of Cameroon's Northwest Region has ordered houses of worship illegally operating in his area of jurisdiction to immediately close their doors.
Governor AdolpheLeleLafrique spoke Wednesday, a day after police rescued 30 children who a religious sect had been holding in total seclusion since 2001 and in a crammed compound in the region's capital Bamenda.
The Salam Church of Christ is among thousands of mostly charismatic churches that operate freely in Cameroon even though only 46 are legally registered.
The governor was chairing a crisis meeting on the shocking discovery that drew condemnation from across the country.
The official had called the meeting to determine the fate of the children and their mothers freed from the imposed seclusion.
Social workers say the children and the women, three of who are pregnant and are now admitted in Bamenda's regional hospital, are reported to be in dire need of proper medical care.
Authorities will also determine what will become of the body of a deceased male sect member, 38-year-old Ngong Harrison Ndeh, whose death led to the discovery of the sect's ‘Holy Family' holding cell.
Police suspect some of the children could have been victims of human trafficking.
People who had reported their children missing have been trouping into the city to identify the children who the head of the Salam Church of Christ, self-proclaimed Evangelist Richard Taah, who is now being questioned by police, claims he fathered.
The parenthood of the children is still to be ascertained as accounts from the sect's members have been inconsistent, according to reports.
Paternity tests are being carried out, authorities have said.
Taah and about 7 other male members of the cult, who shared about eight ‘wives' among themselves and reportedly fathered the undeclared children aged between 2 weeks and 9 years, are in police custody.
The children did not attend regular school, never left the compound and some of the women were co-wives with some of their daughters.
The discovery that shocked the central African nation and brought the country's human trafficking concerns to light was made on Tuesday.
In the past children's rights activists have cautioned that traffickers are resorting to snatching their victims as increased public awareness cuts the number of children rural parents hand over to middlemen who often tout fake pledges of offering the children better lives and education in the cities.
Neighbours of the sect's compound that had always been under tight security tipped off police after they discovered that cult members tried to bury the deceased male member in their backyard without the knowledge of his family and outsiders.
The member had renounced his kith and kin some 11 years ago.
The small apartment house in Bamenda'sLonglaneighbourhood also included a bespoke but shoddy health centre and home school.
A cemetery with about five graves was also discovered in the backyard where it is suspected children and another adult sect member who died probably due to improper health care had been interred secretly.
Two vehicles belonging to the sect were burnt down and their fenced compound ransacked by irate residents of Bamenda on Tuesday before the police intervened.
The group shuns conventional practices like going to hospital; The men, said to have been riding luxurious cars with tinted windscreens that were hardly ever wound down, do all the shopping while the women and children stayed locked away from the public.
Cameroon, where about 15 per cent of children between ages 10 and 14 years work involuntarily and in dire conditions according to a 2008 US Department of Labour report, is believed to be a source, transit point, and destination for trafficked children and women from the country and beyond.