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She has bathed, put on her nicest clothes and is heading out to a busy crossroads called the "Old Manor" in Maroua, capital of Cameroon's far north. This is where the year-old meets her friends most nights - not for fun but to walk the streets. Since Boko Haram ran them out of their villages, the girls turned to sex work to survive. She hesitated before continuing.
Three years ago, she was a happy middle school student in the village of Amchide on the Nigerian border. When the Islamist militants attacked in , she was separated from her parents and fled into the woods. Now she has joined the ranks of what social workers say are a growing number of child sex workers in Maroua and nearby cities, driven there by violence and offered little support.
Marvizia estimates there are about underage sex workers in Maroua, and more in towns such as Mora, Mokolo and Kousseri, though there are no official figures. She found an aunt in Maroua but was not offered shelter - the family already had too many mouths to feed.
Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands of people during its nine-year insurgency to carve out an Islamic caliphate in the Lake Chad region, expanding from its base in northeast Nigeria. More than , people are currently displaced within Cameroon, according to the U. The child sex workers in the far north come mostly from this uprooted population who inhabited the border zone frequently targeted by Boko Haram, said Marvizia. Many were separated from their families, but some girls interviewed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation lived with their parents and were still forced to sell their bodies.
Prostitution is illegal in Cameroon and punishable by up to six years in prison or a 20, to , CFA fine. But the girls who fled attacks do not fear arrest. What more can we become? I dropped my studies. I am nothing," she said through tears. Given the massive needs of Boko Haram victims in the region, child prostitution among the displaced has been "forgotten" by international organisations, said Marvizia of APEEFC.