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Zimbabwe

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and of the media, but the law limits these freedoms in the “interest of defense, public security or professional confidentiality, to the extent that the restriction is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom.” The government continued to arrest, detain, and harass critics, and journalists practiced self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: There were no official restrictions on individuals criticizing criticize the government or on the discussion of matters of general public interest. Authorities, however, remained sensitive to criticism in general, particularly when directed at President Mnangagwa. Persons accused of insulting the president and his office are charged under section 33 (2) (b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act), undermining authority of or insulting a president, but this was contested in the Supreme Court on the basis that the section infringed on the right to freedom of expression. The court did not make a final determination on its constitutionality, however, and the law remains in force. On October 26, police cited the law to arrest Wisdom Mkhwananzi after he gave testimony at a commission of inquiry hearing in Bulawayo accusing President Mnangagwa of complicity in the government’s killing of more than 20,000 people in the 1980s known locally as “Gukurahundi.”

On September 29, police arrested Norman Machipisa after he reportedly said President Emmerson Mnangagwa was incapable of running the country. He was charged with contravening section 41(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) for disorderly conduct. Harare Magistrate Learnmore Mapiye released him on $20 bail and remanded him until October 11. On August 21, police arrested Munyaradzi Shoko and charged him with criminal nuisance for allegedly posting offensive statements on Facebook concerning President Mnangagwa. On August 23, police withdrew charges against Shoko.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent newspapers and commercial radio stations were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although with some restrictions. State-sponsored media, however, were the most prevalent. The Ministry of Media, Information, Publicity, and Broadcasting Services exercised control over state-run media.

Independent newspapers continued to operate freely, although journalists reported practicing self-censorship. Police and journalist unions regularly met in an effort to promote a safe working environment.

On August 3, riot police briefly stopped a press conference where MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa planned to speak on alleged election rigging in the aftermath of the July 30 polls. Broadcasting and Media Services Minister Simon Khaya Moyo intervened, and police departed the venue, after which the press conference proceeded.

The government used accreditation laws to monitor international media journalists’ entry into the country. The government required foreign journalists to obtain permits 60 days before travelling to the country in order to report from the country.

Foreign reporters paid more for permits and accreditation than did their local counterparts. The Zimbabwe Media Commission charged $200 for a foreigner’s 60-day accreditation while local journalists paid $10 for a one-year accreditation. ZEC charged journalists covering the July 30 election an additional $50 fee for further accreditation to election-related events and facilities.

On September 5, media reported government authorities denied a passport application for freelance journalist Violet Gonda. Gonda lived in exile for nearly 15 years, and returned to the country in the aftermath of the 2017 military intervention ending President Robert Mugabe’s rule. Officials at the Registrar General’s office stated they could not process her passport for reasons dating back to 2002 when she worked for London-based SW Radio Africa. Her appeal remained pending at year’s end.

Most international media outlets such as CNN, al-Jazeera, and the BBC continued to operate in the country.

Radio remained the principal medium of public communication, particularly for the rural majority. All urban commercial radio stations licensed in 2015 were operating during the year. Despite their perceived allegiance to ZANU-PF, these stations included independent voices in their programming. The government did not license any community radio stations during the year.

The government-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation–the country’s only domestically based television-broadcasting station–operated one television channel. International satellite television broadcasts were available through private firms but were too expensive for most citizens.

During the year the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) granted three broadcasting licenses, including a content distribution license to the government-controlled Zimbabwe Newspapers Private Limited, and video on demand licenses (dealing with internet video content) to Econet Wireless (operating Kwese TV) and Tel One. On September 7, the BAZ awarded independent media house AMH an online television and radio license.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces, officials, and supporters from the major political parties routinely harassed journalists. On September 4, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) condemned what it stated was the systematic “censorship, banning, or expulsion of journalists from public events.” It stated that the trend was against the letter and spirit of media freedoms as espoused in the country’s constitution.

On April 30, police arrested and detained Gift Phiri, an editor with the Daily News, after he was seen taking pictures of a ZANU-PF meeting with party polling agents. He was charged with one count of criminal trespassing. Phiri was later released after paying a fine.

On May 24, Deputy Minister of Justice Terrence Mukupe assaulted NewsDay journalist Blessed Mhlanga and his wife during a live radio program. Mhlanga had released a video recording of an internal ZANU-PF meeting in which Mukupe said the military would not recognize opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa as president if he won the July 30 election. When Mhlanga went to police to file a complaint regarding the assault, he learned Mukupe already had made a statement accusing him as the aggressor.

On May 14, MDC Alliance supporters manhandled Tawanda Mudimu, a photographer with state media outlet The Herald, while he covered demonstrations at the party’s headquarters in Harare. According to the MISA-Zimbabwe chapter, MDC Alliance supporters allegedly assaulted Mudimu and demanded he delete the pictures he had taken during opposition demonstrations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government maintained censorship through media registration and accreditation laws, although many provisions of the law are inconsistent with the constitution. The law provides the government with extensive powers to control media and suppress free speech by requiring the registration of journalists and prohibiting the “abuse of free expression.” Government-controlled media practiced self-censorship and bias in favor of the ruling party.

Libel/Slander Laws: The Constitutional Court ruled the constitution outlaws criminal defamation. Civil defamation laws remained in force.

Newspapers exercised self-censorship due to government intimidation and the prospect of prosecution under civil libel laws.

National Security: The law grants the government a wide range of legal powers to prosecute persons for political and security crimes that are not clearly defined. For example, the extremely broad Official Secrets Act criminalizes the divulging of any information acquired by government employees in the course of official duties. Authorities used these laws to restrict publication of information critical of government policies or public officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law permits the government to monitor all communications in the country, including internet transmissions. Internet and mobile phone communication in the country was widely available. The government, however, regulated internet and mobile phone communication to curb dissent and increased its share of the information and communications technology market and international gateways. The government regularly monitored and interfered with use of social media.

On June 18, the ZPCS summoned prison officer John Mahlabera to a disciplinary hearing for a tweet perceived to be supportive of MDC Alliance President Nelson Chamisa. The prison authorities said Mahlabera’s actions showed disloyalty to President Mnangagwa.

The Interception of Communications Act (ICA) along with the Postal and Telecommunications (Subscriber Registration) Regulations, 2014 (SI 95 of 2014) facilitated eavesdropping and call interception. Under ICA law enforcement officers may apply to the responsible minister for a warrant authorizing law enforcement to intercept communications, including calls, emails, and messages. Using the statutory instrument, officers may apply for interception warrants if they know the identities of individuals whose calls and messages they want to intercept.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 27.1 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government did not restrict academic freedom during the year, however the country’s laws restricted the independence of universities, subjecting them to government influence and providing disciplinary powers over staff and students to university authorities. The country’s president is the chancellor of all eight state-run universities and appoints their vice chancellors. The government has oversight of higher education policy at public universities, and ZANU-PF controls the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education.

The Censorship and Entertainment Controls Board approves scripts by playwrights. Artists who violated provisions of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act (CECA) received fines and prison sentences. On May 10, Harare Magistrate Josephine Sande ordered musician Tawanda Mumanyi to pay a fine of $100 or stay one month in prison for recording a song deemed “obscene and indecent.” Authorities convicted Mumanyi of contravening CECA for the “Kurova Hohwa” song’s sexually suggestive lyrics.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, or both. The Public Order and Security Act (POSA) requires organizers to notify police of their intention to hold a public gathering–defined as 15 or more individuals–seven days in advance. Failure to do so may result in criminal prosecution as well as civil liability. The law also allows police to prohibit a gathering based on security concerns but requires police to file an affidavit in a magistrate’s court stating the reasons behind the denial. The government enacted POSA after a demonstration resulted in security forces killing six opposition protestors on August 1. A seventh individual died from injuries related to the protests.

Although many groups did not seek permits, other groups informed police of their planned events, and police either denied permission or gave no response. The MDC Alliance accused police of using the cholera epidemic in Harare as an excuse to ban large public assemblies to prevent an MDC Alliance rally on September 15. Media reported that from September 16-22 police forcibly removed vendors who refused to comply with orders related to the cholera outbreak to vacate their stalls in the Harare CBD. On October 11, police arrested Peter Mutasa, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), and 35 trade unionists in Harare and other major city centers as they awaited a court decision to overturn the ban on their planned demonstration against the government’s 2 percent tax on electronic transfers. Police had previously denied ZCTU’s request for a permit, and a Harare magistrate dismissed ZCTU’s challenge to the police ban on October 12.

Authorities often denied requests by civil society, trade unions, religious groups, or political parties other than ZANU-PF to hold public events if the agenda conflicted with government policy positions. There were several reports of political rallies interrupted by opposing political parties.

On February 26, police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse dozens of National University of Science and Technology students protesting continued strikes by lecturers. Police dogs injured eight students, while police arrested 61 students. A local NGO reported 15 students sought medical treatment after this incident.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. Although the government did not restrict the formation of political parties or unions, ZANU-PF supporters, sometimes with government support or acquiescence, intimidated and harassed members of organizations perceived to be associated with other political parties. For example, a local NGO reported that on July 25, a local councilor in Mbire threatened to have community members beaten and their homes burnt down if they voted for opposition political parties. Local NGOs provided multiple reports similar to this one.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot, this right was restricted. The political process continued to be heavily biased in favor of the ruling ZANU-PF party, which has dominated politics and government and manipulated electoral results since independence in 1980.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Most international and local independent observers characterized the July 30 presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as largely free of violence but not meeting the mark for a free and fair election. Political parties and civil society organizations complained of widespread voter disenfranchisement, including of foreign-born and diaspora voters, and the inability to compete on a level playing field. State media coverage was heavily biased in favor of ZANU-PF and provided almost no access to or positive coverage of the opposition. There were reports of voter intimidation, including the collection of voter registration slips by party and tribal leaders in an attempt to undermine the secrecy of the vote. While the law obliges traditional chiefs to be impartial, in rural areas traditional leaders mobilized voters and canvassed support for ZANU-PF. In return traditional leaders continued to receive farms, vehicles, houses, and other benefits. Local NGOs also reported traditional leaders’ selective distribution of agricultural inputs and food aid to reward ZANU-PF supporters and punish opposition voters.

The credibility and independence of ZEC were called into question for allegedly being composed largely of personnel loyal to ZANU-PF. ZEC failed to release a finalized voter’s roll until after the nomination court announced on June 14 the 23 candidates to contest the presidency. The voter’s roll ZEC provided to the MDC Alliance and other opposition parties did not include biometric information and differed from the one used at polling stations on Election Day. ZEC allowed political party representatives a one-time viewing of the printing of presidential ballots but provided no transparency of their storage or transportation to polling stations prior to the election. Ballot papers were printed in an unbalanced layout with the names of 13 candidates in one column and nine in the next to allow Mnangagwa’s name to appear at the top of a column. On July 12, ZEC officials were present at Ross Police Camp in Bulawayo when police officers cast ballots in the presence of supervisors, but they did so without observation from opposition party polling agents in violation of the Electoral Act.

Voting on Election Day occurred peacefully, with a large voter turnout estimated at 85 percent. Most observers found ZEC-administered polling stations well run by competently trained officers. ZEC successfully accredited 1,209 foreign election observers and journalists in a timely and efficient manner. Some local observers, however, reported the accreditation process to be overly burdensome. On August 1, military personnel killed six unarmed protestors during an opposition-led election-related demonstration in Harare’s CBD. A seventh individual died from injuries related to the protests.

On August 3, ZEC released presidential election results, declaring incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa the winner with 50.8 percent of the vote. Within 24 hours, ZEC provided polling station level results on CD-ROMs to stakeholders. Statistical analysis by citizen observers found ZEC’s announced presidential results to be within a credible statistical range, although the margin of error indicated a presidential runoff election was also within that range. Leading opposition candidate Nelson Chamisa challenged ZEC’s declaration of Mnangagwa as the winner. ZEC later revised Mnangagwa’s percentage of the vote to 50.6 percent in response to Chamisa’s legal challenge.

On August 22, the Constitutional Court held a hearing to review the challenge to the announced presidential election results. The court denied permits to allow four South African members of Chamisa’s legal team to argue the case. On August 24, the court unanimously determined the petition did not meet the required evidentiary standards. It declared Mnangagwa the winner of the presidential election and ruled that the petitioners had to pay the court costs of the other parties to the case.

On August 26, the chief justice inaugurated Mnangagwa. The ZANU-PF party won an exact two-thirds majority in the 270 member National Assembly but failed to garner a two-thirds majority in the 80-member Senate. The Southern African Development Community, the African Union, and the Common Market for Southern and Eastern Africa declared the election free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: An unprecedented number of presidential candidates (23) and political parties (55) contested the July 30 elections. Despite this opening of political space, elements within ZANU-PF and the security forces intimidated and committed abuses against other parties and their supporters and obstructed their activities. Local NGOs reported ZANU-PF youth members and war veterans threatened communities with violence if ZANU-PF candidates lost in the elections. In July police arrested ZANU-PF supporters for allegedly threatening to burn the house of United African National Council parliamentary candidate Silver Chiripanyanga in Mashonaland East province. Local NGOs also reported dozens of instances of ZANU-PF supporters removing opposition and independent parties’ campaign signs and materials in wards throughout the country. In June Build Zimbabwe Alliance party leaders posted photos of campaign posters allegedly torn by ZANU-PF supporters in Gweru.

Members of the opposition MDC Alliance also carried out acts of intimidation and committed abuses, although at a much lower rate than did ZANU-PF supporters. MDC Alliance supporters of two rival primary candidates assaulted each other in the Harare suburb of Epworth on June 2. On March 4, supporters of MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa assaulted supporters of Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) Vice President Thokozani Khupe at a party meeting in Bulawayo.

The constitution provides specific political rights for all citizens. Laws, however, are not fully consistent with the constitution and allow discrimination in voter registration to continue. For example, on May 30, the Constitutional Court ruled against amending the Electoral Act to allow up to five million members of the Zimbabwean diaspora to vote from abroad. The court, however, allowed Zimbabweans with dual citizenship to register to vote provided they presented certain identification documents.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did fully participate as voters and candidates. Women remained largely underrepresented in local and national political offices, and men overwhelmingly held most senior positions in the public sector. Female candidates faced particularly vitriolic gender-based insults regarding appearance, sexual proclivity, and other gender-based stereotypes and faced challenges within their party if running against a male candidate in a primary. Several female candidates from the MDC Alliance reported some inside the party leadership required women to have sex with them in order for their names to appear on the party candidate list. Those who refused found their names left off the list.

Some observers believed that traditional and cultural factors limited the participation of women. Following the July 30 elections, women filled six of 21 cabinet minister positions, an increase from 2013, but well below their 52 percent share of the population and well below the equal representation required by the constitution. Women headed the Ministry of Defense and War Veterans and the Ministry of Youth, Sport, Arts, and Recreation for the first time in the country’s history. Women held six of 12 minister of state positions and six of 13 deputy minister positions. Women made up 31 percent of the National Assembly and Senate, down from 34 percent in 2013. On September 12, the Senate elected a woman as president. In accordance with the constitution, female members of parliament filled all 60 seats reserved for women in the National Assembly. At the local government level, women held approximately 19 percent of councilor positions nationwide.

Four female presidential candidates competed in the July 30 election: former vice president Joice Mujuru of the People’s Rainbow Coalition, former deputy prime minister Thokozani Khupe of the MDC-T, Melbah Dzapasi of the #1980 Freedom Movement Zimbabwe, and Violet Mariyacha of United Democratic Movement. NGOs noted that young women were mostly excluded from decision-making structures and processes in all political parties.

The law permits blind persons to have an individual with them to assist them in marking their ballots. The National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH) helped provide for handicapped accessibility at polling stations throughout Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Kwekwe, and Mutare during the July 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. Polling officials permitted persons who requested assistance–including blind, illiterate, and elderly persons–to have an individual with them to mark their ballots as the electoral law requires. According to ZESN, 45 percent of polling stations had at least 26 assisted voters.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: While the law criminalizes sexual offenses, including rape and spousal rape, these crimes remained widespread problems. Almost a quarter of married women who had experienced domestic violence reported sexual violence, while 8 percent reported both physical and sexual violence.

Although conviction of sexual offenses is punishable by lengthy prison sentences, women’s organizations stated that sentences were inconsistent. Rape victims were not consistently afforded protection in court.

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 a credible NGO, there were reports of rape being used as a political weapon during the year. In Buhera an MDC polling agent claimed a group of men came to her house in the middle of the night and assaulted and raped her for refusing to sign the vote tabulation form she claimed contained irregularities. In Mutoko a woman claimed three men came to her home demanding to know the candidate she voted for during the July 30 elections. She claimed the men assaulted and raped her when she gave an unfavorable answer. Police arrested one of the men responsible and the court case was pending at year’s end.

Female political leaders were targeted physically or through threats and intimidation. MDC Alliance youth members attacked MDC-T vice president Thokozani Khupe with stones and attempted to burn a hut she entered while in a village outside Buhera for the funeral of MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai on February 20. ZEC Chairwoman Priscilla Chigumba faced frequent harassment on social media during the July electoral period. On September 12, MDC Alliance members of parliament verbally heckled Chigumba for allegedly enabling President Mnangagwa’s election victory, prompting security personnel to escort her from the parliament building for her safety.

Children born from rape suffered stigmatization and marginalization. The 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 as NGOs and did not receive a significant amount of financial support from the Ministry of Health and Child Care. The clinics received referrals from police and NGOs. They administered HIV tests, provided medication for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and provided medical services for pregnancy. 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.

Despite the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act in 2006, domestic violence remained a serious problem, especially intimate partner violence perpetrated by men against women. Although conviction of domestic violence is punishable by a fine and a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, authorities generally considered it a private matter, and prosecution was rare.

The joint government-NGO Anti-Domestic Violence Council as a whole was ineffective due to lack of funding and the unavailability of information on prevailing trends of domestic violence, although its members were active in raising domestic violence awareness. NGOs reported the council was not involved in much of their programmatic work.

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 treatment without cost at government health facilities. This requirement prevented many rape victims from receiving necessary medical treatment, including post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent victims from contracting HIV.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Virginity testing, although reportedly decreasing, continued to occur in some regions during the year.

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. 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 occurred after a student advocacy group, the Female Students Network, revealed incidents of gender-based violence and sexual harassment against students in a 2015 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 3,425 students interviewed, 94 percent indicated they had experienced sexual harassment, while 16 percent reported having been forced into unprotected sex with lecturers or other staff.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

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 conducted an observation mission during the July elections and produced a gender analysis of the election process. It found men occupied most decision-making positions within the election management system while women occupied mostly administrative and support functions.

In 2017, the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender, and Community, with support from the UN Development Program and UN Women, unveiled a revised National Gender Policy calling for greater gender equality and demanding an end to gender discrimination. Despite laws aimed at enhancing women’s rights and countering certain discriminatory traditional practices, women remained disadvantaged in society.

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 maintenance 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.

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. In the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, there were two women brigadier generals appointed in 2013 and 2016 respectively, and one female air commodore appointed in 2016. Women comprised 35 percent of personnel deployed to peacekeeping missions. The Minister of Defense and War Veterans, Oppah Minchiguri, is a woman.

Children

Birth Registration: 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 show 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. Approximately 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. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Primary education is not compulsory, 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 the state “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.

Child Abuse: Child abuse, including incest, infanticide, child abandonment, and rape, continued to be serious problems. In 2017 the NGO Childline received more than 14,500 reports of child abuse via its national helpline. Childline managed more than 5,500 in-person cases at its drop-in facilities across the country and counseled more than 4,000 children. Just less than half of all reported cases of abuse concerned a child who had been sexually, physically, or emotionally abused, neglected, or forced into marriage. Approximately twice as many girls reported abuse as boys.

It is legal for parents and schools to inflict corporal punishment on boys but not on girls. The constitution provides that “no person may be subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” but the courts had not interpreted the clause nor determined whether it applied to corporal punishment. In addition the Constitutional Court deferred ruling on the constitutionality of caning juvenile offenders as judicial punishment. While the issue remained pending, magistrates could impose corporal punishment on juvenile offenders but normally imposed strict conditions on its application.

Government efforts to combat child abuse continued to be inadequate and underfunded. The government continued to implement a case management protocol developed in 2013 to guide the provision of child welfare services. In addition there were facilities that served underage victims of sexual assault and abuse.

Early and Forced Marriage: The constitution declares anyone younger than age 18 a child. In 2016 the Constitutional Court ruled no individual younger than age 18 may enter into marriage, including customary law unions. The court also struck down a provision of the Marriage Act that allowed girls but not boys to marry at age 16.

Despite legal prohibitions, mostly rural families continued to force girls to marry. According to the 2012 population census, almost one in four teenage girls were married. Child welfare NGOs reported evidence of underage marriages, particularly in isolated religious communities or among HIV/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.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Conviction of statutory rape, legally defined as sexual intercourse with a child younger than age 12, carries a fine of $2,000, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. A person in possession of child pornography may be charged with public indecency and if convicted faces a fine of $600, imprisonment up to six months, or both. A person convicted of procuring a child younger than age 16 for purposes of engaging in unlawful sexual conduct is liable to a fine up to $5,000, 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 coupled with the effects of drought also led more girls to turn to prostitution.

Displaced Children: Approximately 10,000 children were displaced from the Tokwe-Mukosi dam area in Masvingo Province (see section 2.d.). The disruption of their parents’ livelihoods negatively affected the children’s access to health care and schooling.

A 2016 UNICEF report estimated 18 percent of children had lost one or both parents to HIV or other causes. 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, not enrolled in school, suffer discrimination and social stigma, and be vulnerable to food insecurity, malnutrition, and HIV/AIDS. Some children were forced to turn 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.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered approximately 150 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

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. The constitution and law do not specifically address air travel or other transportation. They do not 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. NGOs also petitioned the government to align the Disabled Persons Act with the constitution. Government institutions often were uninformed and did not implement the law. The law stipulates that government buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but its implementation was slow.

NASCOH reported that access to justice in courts was compromised for persons with hearing disabilities due to a lack of sign language interpreters. Persons with disabilities living in rural settings faced even greater challenges.

Although two senators were elected to represent persons with disabilities, parliament rarely addressed problems especially affecting persons with disabilities. 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. 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.

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 eight centralized mental health institutions in the country with a total capacity of more than 1,300 residents, in addition to the three special institutions run by the ZPCS for long-term residents and those considered dangerous to society. Residents in the eight centralized 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 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 in facilities run by the ZPCS were not necessarily convicted prisoners. 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.

There were minimal legal or administrative safeguards to allow 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.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

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. In a shift from past speeches and broadcasts, government leaders discouraged hatred of whites, proclaimed an end to former president Mugabe’s “era of land seizures,” and vowed to compensate white farmers who lost land under the program. In the lead-up to July 30 elections, neither the ruling nor opposition parties publically disparaged any race.

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 to consolidate support ahead of the July 30 elections. Within the Shona majority, the Zezuru, who dominated the government under Mugabe, reportedly harbored resentment toward the Karanga after Mnangagwa, an ethnic Karanga, became president.

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 targeted in the land redistribution program.

In March the government changed its policy regarding its enforcement of the 2007 indigenization law requiring 51 percent indigenous ownership of companies, and in some cases no longer required all businesses to comply with the 51-49 percent rule. The law defines an indigenous Zimbabwean as any person, or the descendant of such person, who before the date of the country’s independence in 1980 was disadvantaged. Legal experts criticized the law as unfairly discriminatory and a violation of the constitution.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 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 fine up to $5,000. Despite that, there were no known cases of prosecutions of consensual same-sex sexual activity. Common law prevents gay men and, to a lesser extent, lesbians from fully expressing their sexual orientation. 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.

LGBTI persons were vulnerable to blackmail because of the criminality and stigma of same-sex activity. 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, or family if the victim refuses 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. On September 21, a deputy headmaster at an elite private primary and secondary school publicly declared his sexual orientation. Parents protested the proclamation and hired attorneys to file suit, demanding the educator’s resignation. He tendered his resignation September 28 after receiving death threats and threats of physical harm to his person and his pets.

GALZ reports 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.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The government has a national HIV/AIDS policy that prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS, and the law prohibits discrimination against workers with HIV/AIDS in the private sector and parastatals. Despite these provisions, societal discrimination against persons living with HIV/AIDS remained a problem. Local NGOs reported persons affected by HIV/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 living with HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Inexplicable disappearances and killings, sometimes involving mutilation of the victim, often were attributed to customary or traditional rituals, in some cases involving a healer who requested a human body part to complete a required task. Police generally rejected the “ritual killing” explanation, despite its being commonly used in society and the press.

Promotion of Acts of Discrimination

Throughout the year government-controlled media no longer continued to vilify white citizens and blame them for the country’s problems, as was common practice under former president Mugabe.

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