ZIMBABWE: Youth Service Source of Women's Abuse

Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Zimbabwe Independent
Southern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

The introduction of the National Youth Service Programme (NYSP) in 2001 saw an upsurge in politically motivated rape and other forms of sexual exploitation, a report by the Harare-based Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) has claimed.

The report — Forced Concubinage in Zimbabwe — released last week claimed that political sexual exploitation had become a constant feature in the country, especially during election periods, and RAU has called for the immediate arrest of perpetrators.

Women, the report averred, were being coerced into a sexual partnership with a man or compelled to perform “wifely duties”.

The abuse was in three forms — rape, human trafficking and forced marriage and dates back to the liberation struggle where young girls were taken involuntarily to wash, cook, porter and have sex with soldiers and ex-combatants.

RAU claimed that the attainment of Independence saw a reduction in politically motivated rape and sexual exploitation. However, the abuse intensified in 2002 after the establishment of NYSP by the Zanu PF-led government in 2001.

Contrary to values that were supposed to be instilled in the youths — sense of national identity, patriotism, unity and oneness, discipline, and self-reliance – the trainees allegedly committed serious human rights violations against women and girls.

“Girls were allegedly raped at the training centres, including by officials and their male counterparts for whom they also carried out menial household chores,” reads the report.

“Those who escaped the training camps related horrific stories as to what transpires within the confines of the camps, including forced sexual concubinage. The NYSP became the training ground for what has come to be known as the youth militia and, from 2002 onwards, allegations of murder, torture, rape, and the destruction of property were linked to these youths.”

Violence against women, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, increased significantly during election periods, RAU claimed.

“Women and girls were taken to camps known as bases where they were detained and subjected to violent abuse,” the report alleged. “Even though there are very few documented reports by women who were raped and subjected to other forms of sexual abuses at the bases, the number of victims is believed to be large.”

The report said a study based on focused discussions with 150 women nationwide revealed that 2% of women in Zimbabwe had experienced politically motivated rape at bases and sometimes in their homes.

“The Aids Free World research revealed a systematic pattern of violence against women accompanying elections periods starting with the 2000 parliamentary elections (when the MDC presented Zanu-PF with its first serious electoral challenge) and continuing through 2002 when (Prime Minister) Morgan Tsvangirai first ran for the presidency,” the report said.

“The rapes documented by Aids-Free World revealed a dramatic increase of rapes in 2008 as compared with 2007. There was a surge in frequency — some 64%— occurring between the March presidential election and the June presidential runoff election.”

The report also noted the increase in human trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation.

“Zimbabwe is a source and transit country for women and children trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour. Women and children are trafficked from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Mozambique to South Africa through Zimbabwe,” the RAU report claimed.

“It is also a source country because Zimbabwean women and girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation in brothels to neighbouring Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zambia.”

RAU recommended that government prosecute perpetrators of political rape and others forms of sexual violence, trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation including forced prostitution and forced marriage to address the problem of forced concubinage effectively.

The report also suggested that no amnesties be granted for perpetrators of politically motivated sexual violence and also the establishment of service programmes, including counselling and access to medical care for the rehabilitation of women and girls who were subjected to rape, sexual slavery (forced concubinage) during the election periods and for victims of trafficking.

RAU called for an independent, innovative and dynamic judiciary which progressively and effectively interprets regional and international human rights instruments in the furtherance of human rights even where state officials were involved.

It also called for the ratification and domestication of the Protocol on the Suppression of Trafficking in Persons and increased awareness-raising campaigns for government officials and the public on the nature of trafficking of women and children for purposes of sexual exploitation.