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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Zimbabwe

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Zimbabwe, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 13.0 million (6.3 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 29,000
Compulsary Recruitment Age: 18 or 16
Voluntary Recruitment Age: unclear (see text)
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: not signed
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182, ACRWC

The national youth training program, which included paramilitary training of children, continued in 2007. Youth militias were involved in human rights violations against opposition supporters.


Intensified political opposition to President Robert Mugabe's political party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU – PF) was met with a violent crackdown in a climate of economic crisis, hyper-inflation and systematic human rights violations.1


National recruitment legislation and practice

The 1979 National Service Act regulated recruitment for national service and the armed forces. According to the government's 1995 report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, "The direct recruitment of children under 18 years of age into the army is prohibited by the National Service Act of 1979. The Act provides for 18 years as the lower age limit for recruitment into regular national service and 18 years for emergency national service." However, the same report stated elsewhere, "Direct recruitment of children under 16 years of age into the army is prohibited by the National Service Act of 1979. The Act provides for 16 years as the lower age limit for recruitment into regular national service and 18 years for emergency national service."2

National youth service training program

A compulsory national youth service training program for all school-leavers (also known as youth militia training) introduced in January 2003,3 continued in 2007.4 In 2003 the government had stated that the training was aimed at people aged 10-30.5 Training centres provided militia training in a 120-day program for 1,000 young people at a time, although numbers declined as the economic and food crisis intensified in the country.6 Several thousand children and young persons had received training by March 2007. Training focused on paramilitary skills and political education, and allegedly included torture and killing techniques. It was reported that girls were repeatedly raped by other trainees and staff.7

The government gave preference to national youth service graduates among those entering and seeking employment in the civil services, especially in the security forces.8 A number of government training programs, such as nurse training and a program for media practitioners, admitted only youth militia graduates. There were plans to draft hundreds of youth militia graduates into the civil service to be deployed as "youth development officers".9 In September 2007 the Youth, Gender and Women's Affairs parliamentary portfolio committee recommended the closure of the youth militia training centres as there was no food to feed recruits.10

Youth militias

Youth militia worked alongside the security forces, whose ranks were increasingly weakened by desertion. Members of youth militias earned more than average civil servant pay, including that of police officers.11 Information about the precise age of youth militia members was not available.

Youth militia, as well as ruling-party supporters and the army, were used to intimidate the opposition in the 2005 elections.12 Youth militia were also deployed in "Operation Sunrise", in which they harassed motorists and commuters when a new currency was introduced in 2006.13 Violence involving youth militia intensified from March 2007, with reports of beatings, abductions and arbitrary detention targeting opposition figures.14 Militia were used to enforce price controls, especially from mid-2007 in "Operation Reduce Prices", when youth militia were sent to enforce price reductions of 50 per cent by supermarkets, shops and stalls.15 Allegations of political intimidation and attacks on opposition supporters, forced displacement, killings, torture, rape and the destruction of property by members of ZANU – PF youth militias continued up to the end of 2007.16


Children were reported to be most affected by the economic crisis in Zimbabwe.17 Chronic malnutrition affected a third of all children.18 The education system had almost stopped functioning, due to the general economic collapse, prohibitive fees for both government and private schools and lack of teachers, who were not only underpaid but were harassed and threatened by militias, including youth miltias.19

1 "Zimbabwe", Human Rights Watch World Report 2008.

2 Initial Report of Zimbabwe to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/3/Add.35, 12 October 1995.

3 "National service to be compulsory", Herald (Harare), 2 July 2002,

4 "Zimbabwe: Youth militia camps may close", IRIN, 6 September 2007.

5 Solidarity Peace Trust, "National Youth Service Training – 'shaping youths in a truly Zimbabwean manner'", 5 September 2003,

6 "Zimbabwe: Youth militia camps may close", IRIN, 6 September 2007.

7 See monthly reports from the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum,

8 US Department of State, "Zimbabwe", Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2006, 6 March 2007,

9 Zim Online, "Mugabe to draft youth militia into civil service", 17 November 2006,

10 "Youth militia camps may close", above note 6.

11 Martin Rupiya, "The military question", Mail and Guardian online, 25 April 2007,; Zim Online, "Zimbabwe: Central Bank doubles salaries for youth militia", 13 February 2007,

12 "Major Zimbabwe police crackdown", BBC News, 23 May 2005.

13 "Zimbabwe seizes millions in cash", BBC News, 9 August 2006.

14 "Bashing dissent: escalating violence and state repression in Zimbabwe", Human Rights Watch, Vol. 19, No. 6(A) (May 2007),

15 International Crisis Group (ICG), "Zimbabwe: a regional solution?", Africa Report No. 132, 18 September 2007.

16 "Bashing dissent", above note 14; US Department of State, "Zimbabwe", Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2007, 11 March 2008,

17 UNICEF UK, "Global support needed to protect children in Zimbabwe", 26 July 2005; "Children hit hardest by Zimbabwe's economic problems", 29 June 2007,

18 Save the Children, Zimbabwe Country Brief 2006,; "Zimbabwe: diarrhoea outbreak claims 34", IRIN, 9 July 2007.

19 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, Shadow Report to the Combined 7th, 8th and 9th Report of the Republic of Zimbabwe, 2007,; "Zimbabwe: hunger bites the health and education sectors", IRIN, 26 July 2007.

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