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.
Persons with Disabilities
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.