Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes sexual offenses, including rape and spousal rape, and conviction is punishable by lengthy prison sentences. Nonetheless, women’s organizations stated that rape remained widespread, sentences were inconsistent, and victims were not consistently afforded protection in court. The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Gender Commission reported that as of November 2019, an average of 22 women were raped daily.
Social stigma and societal perceptions that rape was a “fact of life” continued to inhibit reporting of rape. In the case of spousal rape, reporting was even lower due to women’s fear of losing economic support or of reprisal, lack of awareness that spousal rape is a crime, police reluctance to be involved in domestic disputes, and bureaucratic hurdles. Most rural citizens were unfamiliar with laws against domestic violence and sexual offenses. A lack of adequate and widespread services for rape victims also discouraged reporting.
According to an NGO, no one had been held to account for the 16 reported rapes by security forces from January through March 2019 in retaliation for January 2019 stay-away demonstrations.
Female political leaders were targeted physically or faced violent threats and intimidation (see section 1.c.).
Children born from rape suffered stigmatization and marginalization. Mothers of children resulting from rape sometimes were reluctant to register the births, and therefore such children did not have access to social services.
The adult rape clinics in public hospitals in Harare and Mutare were run by NGOs and did not receive a significant amount of financial support from the Ministry of Health and Child Care. The clinics reported receiving an average of 300 rape referrals each year from police and NGOs. They administered HIV tests and provided medication for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Although police referred for prosecution the majority of reported rapes of women and men who received services from the rape centers, very few individuals were prosecuted.
Domestic violence remained a serious problem, especially intimate partner violence perpetrated by men against women. Although conviction of domestic violence is punishable by a substantial monetary fine and a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, authorities generally considered it a private matter, and prosecution was rare.
The government continued a public awareness campaign against domestic violence. Several women’s rights groups worked with law enforcement agencies and provided training and literature on domestic violence as well as shelters and counseling for women. According to NGOs, most urban police stations had trained officers to deal with victims of domestic violence, but stations had a limited ability to respond on evenings and weekends. The law requires victims of any form of violence to produce a police report to receive free treatment at government health facilities. This requirement prevented many rape victims from receiving necessary medical treatment, including postexposure prophylaxis to prevent victims from contracting HIV. NGOs observed a significant increase in gender-based violence reports during government-mandated lockdowns due to COVID-19. One NGO tracked a threefold increase in requests for domestic violence-related assistance.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no national statistics available regarding FGM/C, but the practice of labial elongation reportedly occurred with “aunties” taking the lead on the process.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Virginity testing continued to occur in some regions during the year. Breast ironing was documented.
Sexual Harassment: No specific law criminalizes sexual harassment, but labor law prohibits the practice in the workplace. Media reported that sexual harassment was prevalent in universities, workplaces, and parliament, where legislators routinely and publicly body shamed, name called, and booed female members of parliament. Female politicians seeking public office also reported sexual harassment by male leaders in charge of candidate selection in political parties (see section 3). The Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender, and Community Development acknowledged that lack of sexual harassment policies at higher education institutions was a major cause for concern. This acknowledgement came after a student advocacy group, the Female Students Network Trust, published the results of a 2017 survey that revealed high incidences of gender-based violence and sexual harassment of female students. Female college students reported they routinely encountered unwanted physical contact from male students, lecturers, and nonacademic staff, ranging from touching and inappropriate remarks to rape. Of the students interviewed, 94 percent indicated they had experienced sexual harassment in general, 74 percent indicated they had experienced sexual harassment by male university staff, and 16 percent reported they were raped by lecturers or other staff.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health, and some had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Adolescents, rural residents, and survivors of gender-based-violence, however, lacked consistent access to the means to manage their reproductive health. According to the UN Population Fund’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights Country Profile, in 2015, 87 percent of married or in-union women reported making decisions on their health care, 93 percent had autonomy in deciding to use contraception, and 72 percent reported they could say no to sex.
According to Track 20, a Family Planning 2030-supported initiative, the contraceptive prevalence rate was 69 percent for 2020, up from 66.5 percent in the 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS). Barriers affecting access to contraception included supply chain and commodity problems and remote access to health facilities. Cultural barriers included religious skepticism of modern medicine among some groups. he government’s policy and legal framework also served as a barrier for adolescents and those still in school due to its ambiguity on the permitted age of access to contraception. According to various media sources, access to contraception became more challenging due to COVID-19 and government lockdown measures that restricted travel.
The law and the creation of one-stop centers for survivors of gender-based violence were designed to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Widespread access, however, remained constrained by limited state funding to NGOs running adult rape clinics in Harare and Mutare and by limited night and weekend police capacity to provide the police report that is the necessary first step in accessing free treatment at government health facilities.
According to the 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, the maternal mortality ratio was 462 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 651 deaths per 100,000 live births reported in the 2015 ZDHS. The leading direct causes of maternal mortality were preventable hemorrhage, hypertensive pregnancy disorders, and sepsis, which occurred despite high prenatal care coverage, high institutional deliveries, and the presence of a skilled health worker at delivery. According to the WHO World Health Statistics 2020 Report, the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel was 86 percent for the period 2010-2019 (up from 69 percent for the period 2000-2008 ), the adolescent birth rate (per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years) for the period 2010-2018 was 78 (down from 101 for the period 2000-2007), and the proportion of women of reproductive age who had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods for the period 2010-2019 was 85 percent. No national statistics were available regarding FGM/C, including implications for maternal morbidity, but reports indicated it was a problem among some communities.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The constitution’s bill of rights, in the section on the rights of women, states that all “laws, customs, traditions, and practices that infringe the rights of women conferred by this constitution are void to the extent of the infringement.” There is also an institutional framework to address women’s rights and gender equality through the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender, and Community Development and the Gender Commission, one of the independent commissions established under the constitution. Despite the appointment of commissioners in 2015, the commission received only minimal funding from the government and lacked sufficient independence from the ministry.
The commission released a statement of concern in May regarding the gendered impact of the COVID-19-related government lockdown. The commission appealed to the government, civil society, private sector, development agencies, and citizens to enhance protection systems and ensure economic recovery plans include women, street children, and sex workers.
The law recognizes a woman’s right to own property, but very few women owned property due to the customary practice of patriarchal inheritance. Less than 20 percent of female farmers were official landowners or named on government lease agreements. Divorce and alimony laws were equitable, but many women lacked awareness of their rights, and in traditional practice property reverts to the man in case of divorce or to his family in case of his death. A marriage law enacted in 2019 amended and consolidated the country’s marriage laws in alignment with the constitution. The law abolishes child marriage and affords civil partnerships or common law marriages the same remedies as legal marriages. Civil partnerships are only for heterosexual persons. The law does not address property rights during marriage or inheritance following the death of a spouse.
Women have the right to register their children’s births, although either the father or another male relative must be present. If the father or other male relative refuses to register the child, the child may be deprived of a birth certificate, which limits the child’s ability to acquire identity documents, enroll in school, and access social services.
Women and children were adversely affected by the government’s forced evictions, demolition of homes and businesses, and takeover of commercial farms. Widows, when forced to relocate to rural areas, were sometimes “inherited” into marriages with an in-law after the deaths of their spouses.
The government gave qualified women access to training in the armed forces and national service, where they occupied primarily administrative positions. The Air Force of Zimbabwe has one female fighter-jet pilot, certified in 2018 in China. In the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, there were two female brigadier generals appointed in 2013 and 2016, respectively and one female air commodore appointed in 2016. Minister of Defense and War Veterans Oppah Muchinguri was a woman.
The government did not consistently enforce the laws regarding equality. Government efforts to implement legal equality for men and women were undermined by traditional practices and courts that recognized male prerogatives in marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, and the judicial process.
Birth Registration: The 2013 constitution states citizenship is derived from birth in the country and from either parent, and all births are to be registered with the Births and Deaths Registry. The 2012 population census data showed that just one in three children younger than age five possessed a birth certificate. Of urban children younger than age five, 55 percent possessed a birth certificate, compared with 25 percent of rural children. Lack of birth certificates impeded access to public services, such as education and health care, resulting in many children being unable to attend school and increasing their vulnerability to exploitation.
Education: The constitution states that every citizen and permanent resident of the country has a right to a basic state-funded education but adds a caveat that when the state provides education, it “must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within the limits of the resources available to it.” According to the 2012 population census, 87 percent of all children attended primary school. School attendance was only slightly higher in urban than in rural areas, and enrollment for children older than 14 was in decline. Urban and rural equity in primary school attendance rates disappeared at the secondary school level. Rural secondary education attendance (44 percent) trailed behind urban attendance (72 percent) by a wide margin. Many schools closed during the year due to COVID-19-related government lockdowns and teacher strikes against low wages.
Girls were more at risk of dropping out of school. The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education reported in 2018 that 12.5 percent of the estimated 57,500 students who dropped out of school were either pregnant or newly married girls. In most circumstances these girls were expelled when school officials believed they could no longer support them. In August, however, President Mnangagwa legally barred government schools from expelling pregnant students to improve gender equality in classrooms. The legal amendment fortifies a 1999 guideline that was sparsely enforced throughout the country.
Although it is mandated by the constitution, there was a lack of free basic education for children, increasing the risk of children’s involvement in child labor. In the past children were required to attend school only up to age 12, which made children ages 12 through 15 particularly vulnerable to child labor, even though they are not legally permitted to work. School fees were often prohibitively expensive and limited access to education, leading some to leave school and enter the workforce at a young age. As of March education is compulsory until the age of 16. Parents who failed to send their children to school can face up to two years in prison.
Child Abuse: Child abuse, including incest, infanticide, child abandonment, and rape, continued to be a serious problem, especially for girls. During the year the NGO Childline reported significant increases in calls received via its national helpline, especially from March to September when COVID-19-related government lockdowns were the strictest. In 2019 approximately 26 percent of all reported cases of abuse to Childline concerned a child who had been sexually abused, 28 percent concerned physically or emotionally abused children, 18 percent involved neglect, and 7 percent related to forced marriage. Of the 25,000 total cases, 93 percent involved girls.
The government made progress in efforts to combat child abuse, such as outlawing corporal punishment for students and juveniles, but implementation legislation was lacking. Government and private facilities that addressed child abuse were underfunded. President Mnangagwa added an amendment to the Education Act on August 22 making it illegal for teachers to cane students. In 2019 the Constitutional Court ruled against the use of corporal punishment in sentences meted out to male juveniles, but this prohibition had not been confirmed through legislative reform. In 2017 the High Court outlawed corporal punishment for children at school and home.
The NGO Childline reported a spike in distress calls from minors since COVID-19 lockdowns closed many schools and workplaces. Before the lockdown, Childline received an average of 50,000 calls per month; in May they received 75,152 calls. Childline staff disclosed they responded to 633 child abuse cases as of September, including 321 sexual abuse cases.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The constitution declares anyone younger than age 18 a child. The marriage law prohibits anyone underage from marriage or entering a civil partnership, and new legislation also criminalizes assisting, encouraging, or permitting child marriages or civil partnerships. The government made significant efforts during the year to combat child marriage, including drafting an updated Marriages Bill that criminalizes marrying a child or pledging a child to marriage. As of December the House of Assembly had approved the bill and passed it to the Senate.
According to the 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, however, 34 percent of girls were married before the age of 18. Despite legal prohibitions, some rural families and religious sects continued to force girls to marry. Child welfare NGOs reported evidence of underage marriages, particularly in isolated religious communities or among AIDS orphans who had no relatives willing or able to take care of them. High rates of unemployment, the dropout of girls from school, and the inability of families to earn a stable income were major causes of child marriage.
Families gave girls or young women to other families in marriage to avenge spirits, as compensatory payment in interfamily disputes, or to provide economic protection for the family. Some families sold their daughters as brides in exchange for food, and younger daughters at times married their deceased older sister’s husband as a “replacement” bride. An NGO study published in 2014 found that because of the cultural emphasis placed on virginity, any loss of virginity, real or perceived, consensual or forced, could result in marriage, including early or forced marriage. In some instances family members forced a girl to marry a man based on the mere suspicion that the two had had sexual intercourse. This cultural practice even applied in cases of rape, and the study found numerous instances in which families concealed rape by facilitating the marriage between rapist and victim.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, young girls became more vulnerable to forced marriages. With schools closed and impoverished families desperate for income, girls were at a higher risk of being married off or subject to sexual violence.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction of statutory rape, legally defined as sexual intercourse with a child younger than age 12, carries a substantial fine, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. A person in possession of child pornography may be charged with public indecency; convictions result in a small fine, imprisonment for up to six months, or both. A conviction of procuring a child younger than age 16 for purposes of engaging in unlawful sexual conduct may result in a substantial fine, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. Persons charged with facilitating the prostitution of a child often were also charged with statutory rape. A parent or guardian convicted of allowing a child younger than age 18 to associate with or become a prostitute may face up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Girls from towns bordering South Africa, Zambia, and Mozambique were subjected to prostitution in brothels that catered to long-distance truck drivers. Increasing economic hardships contributed to more girls engaging in prostitution.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Sexual exploitation of children was widespread, and not all penalties were commensurate with those for similar crimes. The publication America: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture reported child prostitution rates in the country increased as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Economic difficulties led families to use their underage daughters as a source of income. Most of these girls acted as the head of their household, with either bereft or deceased parents or elderly grandparents who could not work.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police issued a memo during the year ordering police officers not to use prostitution or sexual acts by family members to subsidize the family’s income.
Displaced Children: A 2016 UNICEF report estimated 18 percent of children had lost one or both parents to AIDS and other causes. The proportion of orphans in the country remained very high. Many orphans were cared for by their extended family or lived on the street or in households headed by children.
Orphaned children were more likely to be abused, not enrolled in school, suffer discrimination and social stigma, and be vulnerable to food insecurity, malnutrition, and HIV/AIDS. Some children turned to prostitution for income. Orphaned children often were unable to obtain birth certificates because they could not provide enough information regarding their parents or afford to travel to offices that issued birth certificates. Orphans were often homeless.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community numbered approximately 150 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, access to public places, and the provision of services, including education and health care. The law does not specifically address air travel or other transportation, nor does it specify physical, sensory, mental, or intellectual disabilities. NGOs continued to lobby to broaden the legal definition of “disabled” to include persons with albinism, epilepsy, and other conditions. As of September parliament had not implemented enabling legislation to align the Disabled Persons Act with the constitution, despite a 2019 petition from NGOs to do so. Government institutions often were uninformed and did not implement the law. The law stipulates that government buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but implementation was slow.
The National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) reported access to justice in courts was difficult for persons with hearing disabilities due to a lack of sign language interpreters. Persons with disabilities living in rural settings faced even greater access challenges.
Polling officials permitted persons who requested assistance, including blind, illiterate, and elderly persons, to bring an individual with them to mark their ballots as the electoral law requires. The National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) helped ensure persons with disabilities had access at polling stations throughout Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Kwekwe, and Mutare during elections. During the 2018 national elections, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) found 97 percent of observed polling stations made adequate accommodations for persons with disabilities, the elderly, and pregnant or nursing women. During 2019 and 2020 by-elections, ZESN again reported adequate accommodations for voters.
Although two senators were elected to represent persons with disabilities, parliament rarely addressed problems especially affecting such persons. Parliament does not provide specific line items for persons with disabilities in the various social service ministry budgets.
Most persons holding traditional beliefs viewed persons with disabilities as bewitched, and in extreme cases families hid children with disabilities from visitors. Relatives routinely refused responsibility for raising orphans with disabilities. According to NASCOH, the public considered persons with disabilities to be objects of pity rather than persons with rights. NASCOH reported that 75 percent of children with disabilities had no access to education.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. There were very few government-sponsored education facilities dedicated to persons with disabilities. Educational institutions discriminated against children with disabilities. Essential services, including sign language interpreters, braille materials, and ramps, were not available and prevented children with disabilities from attending school. Many schools refused to accept children with certain disabilities. Schools that accepted students with disabilities offered very little in the way of nonacademic facilities for those accepted as compared with their counterparts without disabilities. Many urban children with disabilities obtained informal education through private institutions, but these options were generally unavailable for persons with disabilities in rural areas. Government programs, such as the basic education assistance module intended to benefit children with disabilities, failed to address adequately the root causes of their systematic exclusion.
Women with disabilities faced compounded discrimination, resulting in limited access to services, reduced opportunities for civic and economic participation, and increased vulnerability to violence.
Persons with mental disabilities also experienced inadequate medical care and a lack of health services. There were 25 mental health institutions, including four referral centers, five provincial units and wards, three-day treatment facilities, three outpatient facilities, and 10 community residential facilities in the country with a total capacity of more than 1,500 residents, in addition to the three special institutions run by the ZPCS for long-term residents and those considered dangerous to society. Residents in these government-run institutions received cursory screening, and most waited for at least one year for a full medical review. In the informal sector, the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA) played a large role in the management of psychosomatic and anxiety disorders. ZINATHA conducted training for its members to learn to refer patients with mental health problems to the formal sector.
A shortage of drugs and adequately trained mental health professionals resulted in persons with mental disabilities not being properly diagnosed and not receiving adequate therapy. There were few certified psychiatrists working in public and private clinics and teaching in the country. NGOs reported that getting access to mental health services was slow and frustrating. They reported persons with mental disabilities suffered from extremely poor living conditions, due in part to shortages of food, water, clothing, and sanitation.
Prison inmates with disabilities in facilities run by the ZPCS were sometimes held without charges, pending psychiatric evaluation. Two doctors examined inmates with psychiatric conditions. The doctors were required to confirm a mental disability and recommend an individual for release or return to a mental institution. Inmates with mental disabilities routinely waited as long as three years for evaluation.
Polling officials permitted persons who requested assistance, including blind, illiterate, and elderly persons, to bring an individual with them to mark their ballots as the electoral law requires. NASCOH helped ensure persons with disabilities had access at polling stations throughout Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Kwekwe, and Mutare during elections. During the 2018 national elections, ZESN found 97 percent of observed polling stations made adequate accommodations for persons with disabilities, the elderly, and pregnant or nursing women. During 2019 and 2020 by-elections, ZESN again reported adequate accommodations for voters.
According to government statistics, the Shona ethnic group made up 82 percent of the population, Ndebele 14 percent, whites and Asians less than 1 percent, and other ethnic and racial groups 3 percent.
Historical tension between the Shona majority and the Ndebele minority resulted in continued marginalization of the Ndebele by the Shona-dominated government. During the year senior political leaders refrained from attacking each other along ethnic lines to consolidate support ahead of the by-elections. Within the Shona majority, the Zezuru subgroup, who dominated the government under Mugabe, reportedly harbored resentment toward the Karanga subgroup after Mnangagwa, an ethnic Karanga, became president. When the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a pastoral letter condemning the government’s violent crackdown on dissent, the minister of information, who was of Shona descent, singled out the head of the bishops’ conference, who was of Ndebele descent, and accused him of stoking a “Rwanda-type genocide.”
Some government officials continued to blame the country’s economic and political problems on the white minority and western countries. Police seldom arrested government officials or charged them with infringing upon minority rights, particularly the property rights of the minority white commercial farmers or wildlife conservancy owners, who continued to be targeted in land redistribution programs without compensation.
According to the criminal code, “any act involving physical contact between men that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act” carries a penalty if convicted of up to one year in prison or a substantial fine. There were no known cases of prosecutions of consensual same-sex sexual conduct.
Members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), the primary organization dedicated to advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons, experienced harassment and discrimination against members seeking employment and health services. Transsmart, another active LGBTI group, reported their members believed they were unsafe and unwelcome in churches due to deeply held religious and social stigmas in society. There is no legal option to change gender pronouns on state identity cards, creating identification and travel difficulties for transgender persons. The mismatch between gender presentation and identification pronouns can lead state officials, police, and potential employers to believe the individual is committing identity theft, sometimes leading to criminal arrest.
GALZ reported its membership had more than doubled since 2015. The group noted a decline in the arrest and detention of LGBTI community members but reported half of gay men had been physically assaulted and 64 percent had been disowned by their families. Of lesbians, 27 percent reported harassment, assault, or disownment.
LGBTI persons were vulnerable to blackmail because of the criminality and stigma associated with same-sex conduct. LGBTI advocacy organizations reported blackmail and being “outed” as two of the most common forms of repression of LGBTI persons. It was common for blackmailers to threaten to reveal one’s sexual identity to police, the church, employers, or family if the victim refused to render payment.
According to GALZ, LGBTI persons often left school at an early age due to discrimination. Higher-education institutions reportedly threatened to expel students based on their sexual orientation. Members of the LGBTI community also had higher rates of unemployment and homelessness.
GALZ reported that many persons who identified themselves as LGBTI did not seek medical care for sexually transmitted diseases or other health problems due to fear that health-care providers would shun them or report them to authorities. Public medical services did not offer hormone therapy or gender-confirmation surgeries to the transgender and intersex community. A small number of private clinics provided testosterone therapy, but patients seeking estrogen therapy were required to purchase and self-administer the medicines privately or travel to neighboring countries where treatment was available. Some parents treated their children’s identity as an intellectual disability and forced transgender youth into mental health institutions.
The government has a national HIV/AIDS policy that prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS, and the law prohibits discrimination against workers with HIV or AIDS in the private sector and parastatals. Despite these provisions, societal discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS remained a problem. Local NGOs reported persons affected by HIV or AIDS faced discrimination in health services, education, and employment. Although there was an active information campaign to destigmatize HIV/AIDS by international and local NGOs, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, and the National AIDS Council, such ostracism and criticism continued.
In the 2015 Demographic Health Survey, 22 percent of women and 20 percent of men reported they held discriminatory attitudes towards those with HIV or AIDS. Approximately 6 percent of women and 9 percent of men opined that children with HIV or AIDS should not be allowed to attend school with children without the virus. Approximately 40 percent of sex workers with HIV or AIDS said they avoided seeking health care due to stigma and discrimination. Approximately 6 percent of individuals with HIV or AIDS reported being denied some form of health care due to their positive status.
Government efforts to discriminate against white farmers by seizing farmland diminished but did not cease. Throughout the year government-controlled media did not vilify white citizens or blame them for the country’s problems, as was common practice under former president Mugabe. Nevertheless, some farm seizures continued.