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Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Zimbabwe

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Zimbabwe, 2004, available at: [accessed 17 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.

Republic of Zimbabwe

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 12.8 million (6.6 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 29,000 (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: 18
Voluntary recruitment age: 18 for the armed forces; 16 for national youth service training
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: not signed
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II, ILO 138, ILO 182; ACRWC

From January 2003 school leavers were sent to camps for compulsory youth service training. Several thousand children and young persons had received training by March 2004, some of them as young as 11. Training focused on paramilitary skills and political education, and allegedly included torture and killing techniques. Girls were said to have been repeatedly raped by other trainees and staff. Operating as militia, trainees were allegedly used to intimidate opposition supporters and were accused of murder and torture.


Presidential elections in 2002 were widely regarded as fraudulent, and Zimbabwe's membership of the Commonwealth was suspended amid allegations of human rights violations, vote rigging and abuses against the opposition by the ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANUPF). The country was plunged into an acute political and economic crisis, suffering mass unemployment and inflation at 600 per cent.1 In 2003 Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth after its suspension was renewed.2 Food shortages resulting from drought in the Southern Africa region were exacerbated by a land redistribution program that confiscated farms from the white minority. By the beginning of 2004 an estimated 7.2 million "food vulnerable" Zimbabweans were at risk of starvation.3


National recruitment legislation and practice

The 1979 National Service Act regulates recruitment for national service and the armed force: "18 years [is] the lower age limit for recruitment into regular national service and ... for emergency national service" for recruits and volunteers.4 Every resident was liable for emergency national service inside or outside Zimbabwe in the interest of defence, public safety or public order, whether or not they had already performed national service.

National youth service training program

In July 2002 the government announced that a national youth training service program, also known as youth militia training, would be compulsory for all school leavers from January 2003.5 The minimum age for national youth service training was believed to be 16, with parental consent, but this could not be confirmed. Access to the civil service – in particular entrance to teacher training and nursing colleges – is now dependent on having graduated from the youth training service program.6 According to initial government policy documents, training camps responded to a need to provide the nation's youth, referred to as those aged between 10 and 30 years of age, with "a sense of national pride and history, as well as skills suitable for employment".7 In July 2003 the Minister of Defence was reported as saying that weaponry training would be included in the program, that the youth militia would "create a reserve security force" and be a "lucrative recruitment ground for the Zimbabwe National Army", and that 1,000 youth militia members had already been recruited by the army.8

The first national youth training camp, Border Gezi training camp in Mount Darwin, was set up in 2001, with four more subsequently created. Each centre provided militia training in a 120-day program for 1,000 youths at a time.9 Government budget statements in 2002 and 2003 indicated plans to train 20,000 young people every year. By the end of 2002, it appeared that as many as 9,000 children and young people had received formal militia training, and at least as many again had been trained in less formal programs at district level.10 Circumstantial evidence collected by a researcher suggested that a sizeable proportion of the trainees were under 18: in one camp, the register of participants indicated that approximately one third were under 18, many in the 15 to 16-year-old age range, with the youngest a girl of 11.11

Serious human rights violations against women and girls were reported by former trainees.12 Girls were allegedly raped at the training centres, including by officials.13 Girls as young as 11 or 12 were said to have been repeatedly raped.14 By early 2002 an estimated one thousand women were held in militia camps for sexual purposes.15

Allegations of murder, torture, rape and the destruction of property by youth militias emerged from January 2002 onwards.16 Youth militias were reportedly used to occupy farms, set up illegal roadblocks, force people from their homes, steal identity cards, control food distribution, and restrict access to health centres and polling stations.17 One national youth service camp commander reported that youths in his camp had been sent to kill two government opponents on the orders of his superiors. A former trainee reported being plied with alcohol and drugs, and taught how to electrocute people to extract information from them.18 Routine use of alcohol and marijuana was reported during the training and deployment of youth militia.19 The government was alleged to have used the youth militias to intimidate political opposition groups in the run-up to the presidential elections in 200220 and to by-elections in 2004, in particular in Zengeza in March 2004.21

In March 2004, the Minister for Youth Development, Brigadier Ambrose Mutinhiri, denied that military training was compulsory or was included in the national youth service program. He said that the government "believes firmly in the protection of children, especially the girl child".22

* see glossary for information about internet sources

1 Wilson Johwa, "The Relentless March of the Military Men", IPS News, 4 March 2004,

2 BBC, "Zimbabwe quits Commonwealth", 8 December 2003,

3 UN Relief and Recovery Unit, Zimbabwe Humanitarian Situation Report, 13 January 2004,

4 Report of Zimbabwe to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/3/Add.35, 12 October 1995, However, the same report says elsewhere that "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."

5 "National service to be compulsory", The Herald, Harare, 2 July 2002,

6 Solidarity Peace Trust, National youth service training – "shaping youth in a truly Zimbabwean manner": An overview of youth militia training and activities in Zimbabwe, October 2000 – August 2003, 5 September 2003,

7 Solidarity Peace Trust, op. cit.

8 "Youths to be trained in weaponry", Chronicle, Bulawayo, 17 July 2003, cited in Solidarity Peace Trust, op. cit.; SW Radio Africa also reported that in Masvingo "serving members from the Zimbabwe National Army's four brigade headquarters are being used to train youth militia in the province", March 2004,

9 Information given by the Minister of Finance in his budget speech, Parliamentary Debates, 29 November 2001, cited in Solidarity Peace Trust, op. cit.

10 Solidarity Peace Trust, op. cit.

11 Confidential communication from human rights NGO in Zimbabwe, 28 March 2004.

12 Solidarity Peace Trust, op. cit.

13 IRIN, "Zimbabwe: 'Green Bombers' deserting poor conditions in camps", 23 January 2004,

14 US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2003, February 2004,; Hilary Andersson, "Zimbabwe's torture training camps", BBC News, 27 February 2004.

15 Zimbabwe Women Lawyers' Association, quoted in Amnesty International (AI), Zimbabwe: Assault and sexual violence by militia, 5 April 2002,

16 Physicians for Human Rights Denmark, Post Presidential Election March to May 2002: "We'll make them run", 21 May 2002, doc.

17 Norwegian Election Observation Mission, Presidential Elections in Zimbabwe 2002, Preliminary report issued on 12 March 2002; US Department of State, Bureau of African Affairs, Fact Sheet, Zimbabwe: Initial Findings of US Election Observer Team, 14 March 2002, cited in AI, Zimbabwe: The toll of impunity, 25 June 2002.

18 Hilary Andersson, "Zimbabwe's torture training camps", op. cit.

19 Solidarity Peace Trust, op. cit.

20 Dumisani Muleya, "ZANU PF refutes BBC torture camps reports", Zimbabwe Independent, 5 March 2004,

21 Augustine Mukaro, "Zanu PF militia lay seige on Zengeza ahead of poll", Zimbabwe Independent, 12 March 2004.

22 "National service programme voluntary, says Mutinhiri", The Herald, Harare, 6 April 2004; BBC, "Zimbabwe defends 'secret camps'", 5 March 2004.

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