The Central African nation of Cameroon has the dubious distinction of having one of the world’s highest incidences of rape.

In the northwestern part of the country, thousands of female farm workers have staged a strike to protest a campaign of rapes and sexual assaults by cattle herders.

According to a report in BBC, women and even girls have been victimized in the Wum district. At least one woman died from wounds she sustained on Monday evening.

A large group of local women have staged a rally outside the palace of a powerful chief to protest the epidemic of rapes and to demand protection.

Government officials have reportedly called a meeting to discuss the issue in Wum, an area that witnesses frequent conflicts between members of the Aghem and Akuh ethnic groups over land.

One 11-year old Aghem girl told BBC of her harrowing escape from a group of Akuh men.

 They first of all beat me and threatened to cut me into pieces with a machete if I shouted again. Then, one of them ripped off my underpants and tore my dress, she said.

Then they pinned me to the ground and tried to force themselves on me.

She was apparently rescued by other herdsmen. The would-be rapists were later savagely beaten by angry villagers and hospitalized.

According to a recent report on AllAfrica.com, almost half a million rapes are recorded each year in Cameroon (although the actual number is likely much higher due to the reluctance of victims to speak out).

A Cameroonian women’s rights organization, The National Network of Aunties Association (RENATA), claims that in about 8 percent of reported rapes, the victim is infected with a sexually transmitted disease. Moreover, almost 10 percent of the perpetrators are believed to be soldiers.

A survey in 2009 by the Inter Press Service news agency (IPS) revealed that 20 percent of women in Cameroon have been raped at one point in their lives, while another 14 percent said they had escaped a rape attempt.

The rapists are family members, including fathers, school teachers, pastors and priests, classmates, colleagues, friends and neighbours, Dr. Flavien Tiokou Ndonko, a researcher, told IPS.

One victim told reporter Eric Kouamo of AllAfrica.com: I was raped by my friend's boyfriend. One day I went to her house while she was living with him. When I got there my friend was out so he welcomed me in her absence. Suddenly it started raining and he took the opportunity to ask me to undress.

Sociologist, François Guebou explained the silence of rape victims to Kouamo.

Families prefer an amicable arrangement to preserve their image. Bringing the problem into the public domain is confused in an African context as an attempt to attack the reputation of the family, she said.

However, in Cameroon, it is very hard to prosecute suspected rapists due to a lack of evidence and the reluctance of victims to testify.

Ndonko added that while a rape conviction in Cameroon is punishable by up to a life sentence in prison, only about 5 percent of rapists are convicted in court.