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Key findings
  • About seven in 10 Zimbabweans (69%) say parents are “sometimes” or “always” justified in using physical force to discipline their children.
  • A majority (58%) of Zimbabweans say child abuse and neglect are infrequent problems in their community, but 36% disagree.
  • Only minorities say resources are available in their community to help abused and neglected children (40%), children with disability (35%), and children and adults with mental or emotional problems (28%).
  • A majority (54%) of Zimbabweans say the government is doing a poor job of protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable children.

Zimbabwe’s children have the right to be protected against violence, sexual and economic exploitation, child labour, neglect, and all other forms of abuse under the Constitution, the Children’s Act and Children’s Amendment Bill currently being tabled in Parliament, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Government of Zimbabwe, 2013; Veritas, 2022;, 2017).

But despite these legal provisions and the efforts of the government and other stakeholders to make them a reality, children in Zimbabwe face a wide range of vulnerabilities. One-third of young women experience sexual violence before their 18th birthday. About the same proportion of 5- to 17-year-olds are engaged in child labour (UNICEF Zimbabwe, 2023). Economic decline and the massive exodus of parents/guardians to other countries have left many children susceptible to neglect and abuse (Chronicle, 2019; Feltoe, 2017).

Childline Zimbabwe, a telephone hotline, reported that it handled 25,000 cases of child abuse in 2018 (Moyo, 2022), and Zimbabwe’s national statistics office reported that 22 children were killed by their parents or guardians in 2019-2020 (Butaumocho, 2022). The prevalence of child abuse may have contributed to the Zimbabwe High Court’s ban on the use of corporal punishment to discipline children both at home and at school (Shaban, 2017).

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has publicly warned religious organisations against accepting child marriages (Murwira, 2021), and his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, has said the government will pursue stiffer penalties for child abusers (Mutongwiza, 2022). After media reports about two 9-year-old pregnant girls, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (2022) issued a statement calling for harsher punishments for the sexual exploitation and abuse of girls.

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2022) questionnaire to explore Africans’ attitudes and perceptions related to child welfare.

In Zimbabwe, survey findings show that a majority of adults support the use of physical force to discipline children, and about half say this practice is common in their community.

While a majority say child abuse and neglect are infrequent occurrences in their community, more than half say it is common to see school-age children who are not in school.

Fewer than half say that support services are available in their community for abused or neglected children, for children with disability, and for children and adults with mental or emotional problems. And a majority of Zimbabweans are dissatisfied with the government’s performance on child welfare. Poor citizens are particularly unlikely to say that help is available and that the government is doing a good job of protecting and promoting the well-being of vulnerable children.

Stephen Ndoma

Stephen is the assistant project manager for Southern Africa