Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses


Rape and Domestic Violence: While the law criminalizes sexual offenses, including rape and spousal rape, these crimes remained widespread. Almost a quarter of married women who had experienced domestic violence reported sexual violence, while approximately 8 percent reported both physical and sexual violence. Women were sexually assaulted while seeking treatment in public hospitals, collecting water from communal boreholes and riding in public transportation. The incidence of gender-based violence increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. An NGO reported an increase from 500-600 cases of gender-based violence per month before the COVID-19 pandemic to 700-800 cases per month during the pandemic. Statistics on gender-based violence were not openly shared by law enforcement agencies or the Ministry of Justice, and it was difficult to access data on gender-based violence from these sources.

NGOs reported that government transport restrictions on commuter-only buses and informal taxis increased the incidence of rape and harassment against women by pushing commuters toward illegal and thus more dangerous means of transportation.

Although sexual offenses are punishable by lengthy prison sentences, women’s organizations stated that convictions were rare and sentences were inconsistent. Rape survivors were not consistently afforded protection in court. In April a police officer sexually assaulted a female opposition member in Harare. In May a police officer in Karoi sexually assaulted a woman reporting gender-based violence. Female political leaders and human rights activists were targeted physically and through threats and intimidation via social media; at least one fled the country due to such threats. Social stigma and societal perceptions that rape was a “fact of life” continued to inhibit reporting of rape. Women were less likely to report spousal rape, due to fear of losing economic support or of reprisal, lack of awareness that spousal rape is a crime, police reluctance to engage with domestic disputes, and bureaucratic hurdles. Many rural citizens reported being unfamiliar with laws against domestic violence and sexual offenses. A lack of adequate and widespread services for rape victims also discouraged reporting.

Children born from rape suffered stigma and marginalization. The mothers who gave birth after rape were sometimes reluctant to register the births, and therefore such children did not have access to social services or national identification cards. The adult rape clinics in public hospitals in Harare and Mutare were run by NGOs and did not receive significant financial support from the Ministry of Health. The clinics received referrals from police and NGOs. They administered HIV tests and provided medication for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Although police referred most reported rapes of women and men who received services from the rape centers for prosecution, very few individuals were ultimately prosecuted.

Despite the law, domestic violence remained a serious problem, especially intimate partner violence perpetrated by men against women. This issue was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and frequent government-mandated lockdowns. Although domestic violence is punishable by a fine and a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, authorities generally considered it a private matter and rarely prosecuted.

Members of the joint government-NGO Anti-Domestic Violence Council actively raised domestic violence awareness, although NGOs reported the council was not involved in much of their programmatic work.

Government-controlled media implemented various initiatives to combat gender-based violence through radio programming and a national hotline. Several women’s rights groups also worked with law enforcement agencies and provided training and literature on domestic violence as well as shelters and counseling for women. NGOs reported most urban police stations had trained officers to deal with domestic violence survivors but lacked capacity 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 survivors from receiving necessary medical treatment, including postexposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV. The sparse trauma counseling resources for persons who suffered sexual violence were provided almost exclusively by NGOs.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were no national statistics available regarding FGM/C, but the practice of labial elongation reportedly occurred.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Virginity testing, although reportedly decreasing, continued to occur in some regions. Also widows, when forced to relocate to rural areas, were sometimes married off to an in-law.

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. The Ministry of Women Affairs acknowledged the 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, revealed incidents of gender-based violence and sexual harassment of students in a 2017 survey. 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: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Adolescents, rural residents, LGBTQI+ persons, and survivors of gender-based violence lacked consistent access to reproductive health services. The contraceptive prevalence rate for women ages 15-49 years of age seeking contraception was 67 percent. Barriers affecting access to contraception included supply chain and commodity issues, limited access to health facilities in remote areas, religious skepticism of modern medicine among some groups, and ambiguity on the age of access to contraception. Access to contraception became more difficult due to COVID-19 lockdown measures. Security forces turned back many women traveling to clinics without clearance letters. Many women avoided travel altogether due to of fear of contagion or the consequences of breaking travel restrictions.

Emergency contraceptives were not readily available in the public sector. Women could purchase emergency contraceptives at private pharmacies or obtain them from NGOs, but the cost was prohibitive and availability limited. The law, the policy on sexual abuse and violence, and the creation of one-stop centers for survivors of gender-based violence were designed to provide survivors access to sexual and reproductive health services. Access was constrained by limited state funding to NGOs operating adult rape clinics in Harare and Mutare and limited police capacity to provide victims with the police report needed to access treatment at government health facilities.

The 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey estimated maternal mortality at 462 deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 651 deaths per 100,000 live births in the 2015 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey. Nonetheless, the rate was high despite high prenatal care coverage (93 percent), high institutional deliveries (86 percent), and the presence of a skilled health worker at delivery (86 percent). Although these rates of maternal mortality were partly explained by the high prevalence of HIV, maternal and neonatal quality of care were areas of concern.

Ministry of Health guidelines provide for post abortion care to rape survivors, including both medical and psychosocial support. These services were not uniform across facilities and not routinely available. Psychosocial support services for women who experienced abortion were largely unavailable.

Few families could afford menstrual hygiene products. Some girls failed to attend school when menstruating, while others used unhygienic rags, leading to illness and infections associated with reproductive health.

Discrimination: The constitution provides the same legal status and rights for women and men, stating 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 an institutional framework to address women’s rights and gender equality through the Ministry of Women Affairs and the Gender Commission, one of the independent commissions established under the constitution. The commission received minimal support from the government and lacked sufficient independence from the ministry. The law recognizes a woman’s right to own property, but very few women owned property due to the customary practice of patriarchal inheritance. Fewer 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. In traditional practice, property reverts to the man in case of divorce or to his family in case of his death. When women are not listed on lease agreements, they cannot benefit from most government programs that provide agricultural inputs as a form of economic assistance.

The 2020 Marriage Act affords civil partnerships or common law marriages the same remedies as legal marriages but recognizes only heterosexual civil unions or common law marriages. The new law does not address property rights during marriage or inheritance following the death of a spouse.

Women receive fewer loans and other forms of financial support, even in informal economic sectors where they outnumber men, such as in micro and small-scale enterprises and agricultural production. This disparity was partly explained by deficiencies in access to loan collateral and documented years of business experience. The Ministry of Women Affairs accelerated loan access for women by encouraging financial institutions to set quotas for women, encouraging conventional banks to support women entrepreneurs, expanding financial services available to women entrepreneurs, and providing pre- and postcredit counselling for female loan recipients.

Young girls and women increasingly relied on traditional healers and midwives to address health issues due to the difficulty of accessing doctors during COVID-19 lockdowns. This increased severe health complications. Additionally, an NGO reported women sleeping on the floor in some maternity wards due to overcrowding.

The constitution includes progressive and strong language to protect members of racial and ethnic minorities from violence and discrimination. Implementation, however, was less strong, with some serious gaps in access to personal identity documents for certain ethnic minority groups, and consequent impacts on access to services and statelessness. In practice discrimination based on race and tribe continued to exist.

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 marginalization of the Ndebele by the Shona-dominated government. During the year senior political leaders refrained from attacking each other along ethnic lines. Observers expressed concern over Mnangagwa’s perceived favoritism towards his own Shona subclan, the Karanga, in senior government appointments, saying the appointments came at the expense of other Shona subgroups and the Ndebele.

Government-controlled media did not vilify white citizens or blame them for the country’s problems, as was common practice under former president Robert Mugabe.

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 targets of land redistribution programs.

Government developmental projects reportedly excluded some ethnic minorities in border areas, such as the Tonga people living in Binga. Those living in these areas face food insecurity and lack modern infrastructure.

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. According to the 2012 census, only one in three children younger than age five possessed a birth certificate – 55 percent in urban areas and 25 percent in rural areas. An estimated 39 percent of school age children did not have birth certificates. 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 (see section 2.g.).

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 (see section 2.g.).

Education: Basic education is not free or universal. 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, but enrollment declined after age 14. Primary school attendance was only slightly higher in urban than in rural areas. Rural secondary education attendance (44 percent) trailed behind urban attendance (72 percent).

In August many government schools increased fees by 33 percent, reportedly due to an extension in the duration of the semester from 60 to 80 days. This sparked protests from some students. In addition, frequent COVID-19 lockdowns further restricted children’s access to education. Online and remote learning was not possible for many residents. As a result many students dropped out of school and sought work in the informal sector. Teenage pregnancies are also a barrier to girls’ education.

Child Abuse: Child abuse, including incest, infanticide, child abandonment, and rape, continued to be a serious problem. In 2018 the NGO Childline received more than 15,000 reports of child abuse via its national helpline and managed more than 10,000 in-person cases at its drop-in facilities across the country. Approximately 26 percent of all reported cases of abuse involved sexual abuse; 28 percent involved physical or emotional abuse; 18 percent involved neglect; and 7 percent forced marriage. Of the 25,000 total cases, 93 percent involved girls.

All corporal punishment is illegal.

NGOs reported some children were kidnapped and sold into forced labor in mines because of their size (to access narrow spaces). For additional information on child labor, see section 7.c.

In some cases children were kidnapped and killed to sell their body parts for ritual practices within the country or in South Africa. NGOs report an increase in these cases based on anecdotal evidence.

Government efforts to combat child abuse were inadequate. The government continued to implement a case management protocol to guide the provision of child welfare services. Additionally, there were facilities that served underage victims of sexual assault and abuse.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The constitution declares anyone younger than age 18 a child. Although the government enacted a new Marriage Act in 2020 to abolish child marriage and align the country’s marriage laws with the constitution, NGOs reported teenage pregnancies and child marriages increased sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic. The marriage law prohibits anyone underage from marriage or entering a civil partnership. The law also criminalizes assisting, encouraging, or permitting child marriages or civil partnerships.

Despite legal prohibitions, some rural families and religious groups continued to force girls to marry. In July a teenage girl died during childbirth at a shrine in Mutare Province. The girl belonged to an Apostolic Christian religious group that engages in child marriages. The death sparked national and some international condemnation, prompting a September lawsuit in the Constitutional Court seeking to align the Marriages and Customary Marriages Acts with the constitutional age of consent.

Child welfare NGOs reported evidence of increased 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 prevalence of girls dropping out of 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 sometimes if a wife died her family offered a younger daughter as a “replacement” bride to the widower.

An NGO study published in 2014 found the cultural emphasis placed on virginity meant that any real or perceived loss of virginity – whether 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 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.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction of statutory rape, legally defined as sexual intercourse with a child younger than age 12, carries a fine of U.S. $19, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. A person in possession of child pornography may be charged with public indecency; convictions result in a U.S. $6 fine, imprisonment for up to six months, or both. A conviction for procuring a child younger than age 16 for purposes of engaging in unlawful sexual conduct results in a fine up to U.S. $105, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. Persons charged with facilitating child sex trafficking often also were charged with statutory rape. A parent or guardian convicted of child sex trafficking may face up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Girls from towns bordering South Africa, Zambia, and Mozambique were forced into commercial sexual exploitation in brothels that catered to long-distance truck drivers. Increasing economic hardships contributed to higher rates of child sex trafficking.

Displaced Children: The proportion of orphans in the country remained very high. Many orphans were cared for by their extended family or lived in households headed by children.

Orphaned children were more likely to be abused, homeless, not enrolled in school, suffer discrimination and social stigma, and face 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.

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.

An estimated 300 to 350 long-term residents identify as Jewish. 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 constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, access to public places, and the provision of services, including education and health care. In May a constitutional amendment mandated the Public Service Commission employ persons with disabilities as 10 percent of its workforce, although government offices continued to have limited accessibility and other accommodations for persons with disabilities. The constitution and law do not specifically address access to transportation. They do not distinguish between physical, sensory, mental, or intellectual disabilities.

In June the government adopted a national disability policy that expands the definition of “disabled persons” based on standards set by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Informed by NGO lobbying efforts, the policy incorporates albinism and epilepsy. Prevailing law stipulates government buildings must be accessible to persons with disabilities, but implementation was slow. Two senate seats are designated for persons with disabilities.

Some killings involving mutilation of the victim were attributed to customary or traditional rituals, in some cases involving a healer who requested a human body part to complete a rite.

The National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped reported difficulties in courts for persons with hearing disabilities due to a lack of sign language interpreters.

Persons with disabilities living in rural settings faced even greater challenges. For example they faced discrimination based on a belief they were bewitched. In extreme cases families hid children with disabilities from visitors. Mothers of children with disabilities in rural settings were often viewed negatively and discriminated against.

There were very few government-sponsored schools for persons with disabilities, thus necessitating the need for NGOs to compensate for this in their communities. Organizations such as the Zimbabwe Parents of Handicapped Children Association rotated classroom space and hours to accommodate children with physical and mental disabilities. Sunshine Zimbabwe, the only accredited center offering skill-based training for adults with disabilities, was poorly supported. Some schools discriminated against children with disabilities by refusing to accept them.

Essential accommodations such as sign language interpreters, braille materials, and ramps were commonly unavailable, which prevented children with disabilities from attending school. Many urban children with disabilities obtained informal education through private institutions, but these options were generally unavailable for children with disabilities in rural areas. Government programs intended to benefit children with disabilities, such as the Basic Education Assistance Module, only provided for rudimentary instruction.

Persons with disabilities were often unable to access food assistance distribution sites and were unaware of services available to them. NGOs noted an increase in the number of persons with disabilities turning to begging during the COVID-19 pandemic. 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. As of 2020 there were 20 mental health institutions, including four hospitals, 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. Residents in these government-run institutions received cursory screening, and most waited for at least one year for a full medical review.

A shortage of drugs and adequately trained mental health professionals resulted in improper diagnoses and inadequate therapy for persons with mental disabilities. There were few certified psychiatrists working in public and private clinics and teaching in the country. NGOs reported that gaining access to mental health services was slow and frustrating. They reported persons with mental disabilities experienced extremely poor living conditions, due in part to limited access to food, water, clothing, and sanitation.

Two prison 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 up to three years for an evaluation.

There were minimal legal or administrative provisions for participation in the electoral processes by persons with disabilities. Administrative arrangements for voter registration at relevant government offices were burdensome, involving long queues, several hours or days of waiting, and necessary return visits that effectively served to disenfranchise some persons with disabilities (see section 3 for voter assistance). Ballots were not provided in braille or large text.

The government has a national HIV and AIDS policy that prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV, and the law prohibits such discrimination in the private sector and within parastatals. Despite these provisions, societal discrimination against persons with HIV remained a problem. Local NGOs reported persons affected by HIV faced discrimination in employment, health services, and education. Although there was an active information campaign to destigmatize HIV – organized by international and local NGOs, the Ministry of Health, and the National AIDS Council – ostracism and discrimination continued. In the 2015 Demographic Health Survey, 22 percent of women and 20 percent of men reported they held discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV.

The willful spread of HIV is illegal. According to NGOs, the law was misused as a form of blackmail, particularly in divorce cases. In March the Southern African Litigation Center reported an HIV-positive mother was charged with a crime for breastfeeding her child. The court dismissed the case on procedural grounds.

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 of up to 14 years in prison or a fine up to U.S. $5,000. LGBTQI+ organizations reported several arrests as well as severe mental health consequences because of criminalization, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. Leading NGOs noted harassment and discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons seeking employment, housing, and health services. Trans Smart, an active LGBTQI+ 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 the gender designation on state identity cards, creating identification and travel difficulties. The mismatch between gender presentation and the designated gender can lead state officials, police, and potential employers to believe the individual is committing identity fraud, sometimes leading to criminal arrest.

LGBTQI+ persons were vulnerable to blackmail because of the criminalization of and stigma against same-sex activity. LGBTQI+ advocacy organizations reported blackmail and being “outed” as two of the most common forms of repression of LGBTQI+ persons. It was common for blackmailers to threaten to reveal a victim’s sexual identity to police, the church, employers, or family if the victim refused to pay. NGOs reported hate crimes against LGBTQI+ persons. LGBTQI+ persons often left school at an early age due to discrimination. Higher education institutions reportedly threatened to expel students based on their sexual orientation. LGBTQI+ persons also had higher rates of unemployment and homelessness. They were also less likely to 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. Health care workers commonly discriminated and refused service to LGBTQI+ persons.

Public medical services did not offer hormone treatment or gender-confirmation surgeries to transgender and intersex individuals. A small number of private clinics provided testosterone therapy, but estrogen therapy required patients to purchase treatment privately and self-administer the drugs 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.

Transgender individuals continued to face challenges when seeking government services. An NGO reported a transgender woman was initially prevented from boarding a flight due to the inconsistency between her gender presentation and the sex listed on her passport. Similarly, transgender persons often encountered difficulties when registering to vote because of changes in their appearance, disenfranchising them from the political process.

In October openly gay South African celebrity Somizi Mhlongo planned to visit the country to attend a restaurant opening but ultimately canceled his trip after the Apostolic Christian Council and the ruling party’s youth wing urged the government to block his admission citing moral issues.

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