BAMENDA, CAMEROON – When Annette Beri was 13, her parents arranged to have her work as a nanny for a couple in Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital.
Beri and her parents, who lived in a little village in the Donga-Mantung division of Cameroon’s Northwest region, 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Douala, saw the role as an extraordinary opportunity.
“I was happy to go to the city,” she says. “So too were my parents. My parents and I had never left the village – never. So they were happy that I would be the one to make them visit the township someday.”
Beri’s parents, who could not afford to send her to secondary school after she completed seventh grade, struck the deal with a man from their tribe whose wife was pregnant.
Under the agreement, Beri was to work for the family for two years, solely as a nanny. Her employers would then send her to learn a trade of her choice.
Things did not work out that way. Beri worked for the family for five years and took on several demanding roles.
Besides doing domestic work, she was required to hawk foodstuffs. Such traders move around selling goods they transport on their heads or in handcarts.
Ultimately Beri became the family’s home manager, a role that includes baby-sitting, managing the kitchen, and buying and selling foodstuffs.
“During my fourth and fifth year, I worked like a jackass,” she says.
But hard work was the least of her problems, Beri says.
Whenever the woman of the house found the baby crying, she denied Beri food, she says. She also deprived her of food whenever she came home late from the market where she hawked food.
During her first two years with the family, Beri says she was beaten regularly too. She says her bosses assaulted her with their hands or a gas pipe.
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