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Human Rights in Zimbabwe
Flag of Zimbabwe Zimbabwe
Population: 12,671,860 (July 2004 est.)
Capital: Harare
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Zimbabwe Human Rights Report
» intro | 1a | 1b | 1c | 1d | 1e | 1f | 2a | 2b | 2c | 2d | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6a | 6b | 6c | 6d | 6e | 6f

Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides that "every person in Zimbabwe" cannot be deprived of fundamental rights, such as right to life, liberty, and security of person, based on his race, tribe, place of origin, political opinions, color, creed, or sex; however, the Constitution allows for discrimination, primarily against women, on the grounds of "customary law." Domestic violence and discrimination against women, abuse of children, and discrimination against persons with disabilities were problems. The Government and ruling party discriminated against the white minority in areas of due process, foreign travel, and property ownership.

The Government has a national HIV/AIDS policy that prohibits discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS and the law aims to protect against discrimination of workers in the private sector and parastatals; however, societal discrimination against persons affected by HIV/AIDS remained a problem. Despite an active information campaign by international and local NGOs and the Government through its Ministry of Health and the National AIDS Council to destigmatize HIV/AIDS, ostracism and condemnation of those affected by HIV/AIDS continued. Children who lost their parents as a result of AIDS were often ill treated by their guardians and other members of the community. The Ministry of Public Service, Labor, and Social Welfare operated a program called Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) to assist needy orphans and children affected by HIV/AIDS by paying their school fees.


Domestic violence against women, especially wife beating, continued to be a serious problem and crossed all racial, ethnic, and economic lines. It occurred throughout the country and sometimes resulted in death. SOA makes nonconsensual sex among married partners a crime. The Act provides penalties for up to 10 years in prison for sexual crimes. It also defines sexual offenses as rape, sodomy, incest, indecent assault, or an immoral or indecent act with a child or person with mental disabilities. There was no legislation that specifically addresses domestic abuse.

The Musasa Project, a leading women's rights organization, reported that the number of incidents of domestic violence increased during the year due to the deteriorating economy and higher unemployment among men. The organization counseled 1,823 cases during the year. In 2002, Musasa reported that 54 percent of the women counseled for domestic violence had sexually transmitted diseases, and 29 percent had HIV/AIDS. Musasa Project and the Women's Coalition reported that wife killings remained a problem during the year.

There continued to be reports of rape, incest, and sexual abuse of women. Musasa handled 41 cases of rape or incest during the year; many cases were not reported because of the social stigma attached to the crime and wives' fear that husbands may disown them. Approximately 1,100 rapes were reported in Harare in 2002. Although the Government refused to supply figures for the year, the rate reportedly was higher than in 2002. Musasa and Amani Trust reported 6 cases of politically motivated rape during the year; human rights groups estimated that the actual number of politically motivated rapes may be much higher (see Section 1.c.). As reported by the Solidarity Peace Trust, growing evidence suggests the existence of systematic rape at National Youth Service Camps, where an estimated 1,000 women were interned as sexual servants for cadets and instructors. Musasa Project ran a shelter and a support group for abused women.

Women faced many obstacles in filing reports of rape; for example, many police stations were not prepared to properly handle the investigation of such cases. When cases go to court, lengthy sentences for rape and wife beating generally were imposed; however, a "binding over" order (an order to appear in court to respond to an accusation of violent behavior) was issued based only on actual physical abuse and not on threats of violence. Courts also did not have the power to oust an abusive spouse from a couple's home. Systemic problems and lack of education often meant that police did not respond to women's reports or requests for assistance.

There were reports of sexual abuse of female refugees (see Section 2.d.).

Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that female genital mutilation (FGM) was performed in the country.

There were occasional reports of the trafficking of women (see Section 6.f.).

There are laws aimed at enhancing women's rights and countering certain traditional practices that discriminate against women; however, women remained disadvantaged in society. Illiteracy, economic dependency, and prevailing social norms prevented rural women in particular from combating societal discrimination. Despite legal prohibitions, women still were vulnerable to entrenched customary practices, including the practice of pledging a young woman to marriage with a partner not of her choosing and the custom of forcing a widow to marry her late husband's brother.

The law recognizes women's right to own property independently of their husbands or fathers. Although unmarried women may own property in their own names, women married under customary law were not allowed to own property jointly with their husbands. The Administration of Estates Amendment Act makes inheritance laws more favorable to widows; however, the Constitution allows discrimination against women under customary law and provides that a man's claim to family inheritance takes precedence over a woman's, regardless of the woman's age or seniority in the family. For example, in the event of a man's death, the brother's claim to the inheritance takes precedence over the deceased's wife. Divorce and maintenance laws were favorable to women, but women generally lacked awareness of their rights under the law.

Although labor legislation prohibits sexual harassment and discrimination in employment on the basis of gender, women were concentrated in the lower echelons of the work force and commonly faced sexual harassment in the workplace.

By July, according to a government land audit, approximately 17.2 percent of resettled land was allocated to women, although they comprised nearly 80 percent of the rural population. Married women who were allocated land were asked to register the land in their husband's names.

There is a Ministry of Youth Development, Gender, and Employment, but it did little to advance the cause of women. The Government gave qualified women access to training in the military and national service. Although there have been advances for women within the armed forces, they continued to occupy primarily administrative positions.

Several active women's rights groups, concentrated on improving women's knowledge of their legal rights, increasing their economic power, combating domestic violence, and protecting women against domestic violence and sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS.


The Government's commitment to children's rights and welfare continued to deteriorate during the year. The Government focused primarily on political issues, to the detriment of pressing social needs, and the deteriorating economic situation eroded financial allocations to programs affecting children. Consequently, children, especially those in the rural areas, but also an increasing number of urban dwellers, suffered greatly. Although legislation was in place to protect children's rights, it was difficult to administer and enforce.

There was no compulsory education and schooling was not free; because of increased school fees in urban schools and rural secondary schools, enrollment has declined. School fees have risen sharply due to high inflation, resulting in the inability of many families to afford to send all of their children to school. According to the 2002 census data and age-specific population distributions, roughly 72 percent of school-age children attended school. The highest level achieved by most students was primary level education. The Government established a program of social welfare grants for needy children, including funds to assist them with their education; however, it was underfunded and corruption undermined the beneficiary selection process. The members of selection committees in some communities gave grants to their relatives and friends and denied them to the children of opposition supporters.

In most regions of the country, fewer girls than boys attend secondary schools. If a family was unable to pay tuition costs, it most often was female children who left school. The literacy rate for women and girls over the age of 15 was estimated to be 80 percent, while the male rate was approximately 90 percent.

The Government ordered that students entering college, teacher training schools, or the civil service must present a diploma from one of the National Youth Service training camps (see Sections 1.c. and 6.d.).

Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that schools were shut down as a result of the torture of teachers who supported the MDC. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that schools were used as torture centers.

The SOA makes it a crime to infect anyone knowingly, including children, with HIV/AIDS. International experts estimated that HIV/AIDS infected one-quarter of the adult population and killed approximately 2,000 persons every week. According to an international NGO working with AIDS orphans, deaths from HIV/AIDS created 960,000 orphans during the year, up from 780,000 in 2002. Government-funded and private orphanages were filled to capacity, and the number of street children or those living in adoptive homes continued to rise dramatically and visibly during the year and was expected to put a tremendous strain on both formal and traditional social systems. At the household level, there was an increased burden on the extended family, which had traditional responsibility for caring for orphans. Many grandparents were left to care for the young, and in some cases, children or adolescents were heading families. Many orphans were sent to foster homes, where they often become victims of sexual abuse. At the provincial and national levels, the governments faced increasing demands for community orphan projects, orphanages, health care, and school fees. Monies from a universal AIDS levy automatically deducted from the paychecks of all formal-sector wage-earners have been allocated through the National Aids Council to District Action Committees for some specific programs, including: orphan assistance, support for costs of schools (including food, shelter and clothing), income generating projects for children or orphans of AIDS patients, and research for identifying orphan needs and problems.

Child abuse, including incest (long a taboo), infanticide, child abandonment, and rape continued to be problems during the year. The Parents and Family Support Network, a local NGO, reported that one in three children in the country was at risk of physical or emotional abuse. There was a large volume of rape cases in the Harare victim-friendly courts, which consisted of individual magistrates designated to try family cases. These courts were understaffed because many magistrates sought more lucrative employment outside the country. The large volume led to calls by children's rights' advocates to establish additional courts in surrounding areas. The criminal justice system has special provisions for dealing with juvenile offenders.

Musasa Project worked closely with the Ministry of Youth Development, Gender, and Employment Creation to investigate allegations that young girls were raped at the Government's national youth service training camps (see Section 6.d.). Musasa believed that the girls who were subjected to abuse remained silent out of fear of retribution. Many young girls came to the camps because of the economic suffering in the country. In addition, members of government militias gang-raped adolescent girls some as young as 12.

There were infrequent reports of child prostitution (see Section 6.f.). The SOA provides for a maximum fine of $5 (Z$35,000) or imprisonment of up to 7 years for those convicted of prostituting children under 12 years of age. It also provides for a maximum fine of $8 (Z$50,000) and a maximum prison sentence of 10 years for "procuring another person to become a prostitute and have sex whether inside or outside Zimbabwe." The Act had little impact on the status of children.

Child labor was a problem (see Section 6.d.).

The traditional practice of offering a young girl as compensatory payment in interfamily disputes continued during the year. Arranged marriage of young girls also continued during the year.

Several active children's rights groups concentrated on promoting the well-being of children, including protection against child abuse, and advocating for children's rights.

Persons with Disabilities

The law specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, admission to public places, or provision of services; however, in practice the lack of resources for training and education severely hampered the ability of persons with disabilities to compete for scarce jobs. The law stipulates that government buildings should be accessible to persons with disabilities; however, implementation of this policy has been slow. Local NGOs worked on auditing and implementing the law during the year. NGOs continued to lobby to include albinos in the definition of "disabled" under the law. Persons with disabilities face particularly harsh customary discrimination. According to traditional belief, persons with disabilities were considered bewitched, and reports of children with disabilities being hidden when visitors arrive were common.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to government statistics, the Shona ethnic group makes up 82 percent of the population, Ndebele 15 percent, whites less than 1 percent, and other ethnic groups 2 percent. There were low-level tensions between the African majority and the white minority, between the Shona majority and the Ndebele minority, and among the various Shona subgroups.

Racial tensions have subsided since independence and remained relatively low despite the Government's ongoing attempts to blame whites for the country's economic and political problems. On many occasions, President Mugabe, members of his Government, and the state-controlled media attempted to reignite resentment of the white minority. President Mugabe accused the white minority of having too close ties to their ancestral countries. The Government's far-reaching fast-track resettlement program designated 97 percent of large-scale, white-owned commercial farms for seizure with no clear means for providing compensation, and government supporters and war veterans assaulted commercial farmers in their homes and forced hundreds from their property (see Sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.f.). Ruling party supporters seldom were arrested or charged for infringing upon minority rights.

The disproportionate number of Shona speaking teachers and headmasters in Matabeleland schools remained a sensitive issue. Members of the Ndebele community continued to criticize the Government's unequal distribution of national resources and the Government's failure to compensate victims of the 1980s Matabeleland killings of an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Ndebele civilians.

Incitement to Acts of Discrimination

Throughout the year, government-controlled newspapers, radio, and television stations continued to vilify selectively citizens of European ancestry and to blame them for the country's problems. Ruling party officials sometimes called for dispossessing those of European ancestry of their property, forcibly if necessary. Materials used at National Youth Service Camps identified enemies of the state in racist terms and demonized whites. During the cash shortage, the government-controlled newspapers often accused Asians of hoarding millions of dollars to the detriment of the economy.

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