Skip to toolbar

1. Introduction
Section 243 (1) (c) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe Human Rights
Commission Act [Chapter 10:30], mandates the ZHRC to monitor the observance of
human rights in Zimbabwe. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(UDHR 1948) provides that all human beings are born free and equal. Furthermore,
Article 2 of the UDHR read together with Article 2 of the African (Banjul) Charter on
Human and People’s Rights (1986), emphasises that everyone is entitled to all the
rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex,
language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or
other status. Again the Banjul Charter in Article 18 obliges states to fulfil the rights of
the vulnerable such as women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.
Sections 19-21 as well as 80-83 of the Constitution also provide guarantees for
protection of rights of marginalised and vulnerable groups such as children, youths,
women, older persons and persons with disabilities.
Through its series of Monitoring Missions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the
Commission noted human rights concerns peculiar to special interest groups such as
women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. As highlighted by the abovementioned
international, regional and domestic human rights standards, rights of such
vulnerable persons should be fully protected at all times including during public
emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
2 | P a g e
2. Rights of Women
The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on
the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) specifically provide for rights of
women at international and regional levels, respectively. At national level, Section 80
of the Constitution provides for rights of women. Section 80 (1) of the Constitution
provides that every woman has full and equal dignity of the person with men and this
includes opportunities in political, economic and social activities.
Section 76 of the Constitution enshrines the right to have access to basic health-care
services, including reproductive health-care services. In some communities visited by
ZHRC during the reporting period, women raised concerns of limited access to sexual
and reproductive health services. Some women highlighted that they were failing to
replenish their contraceptive stocks (either tablets or injectables). This challenge was
exacerbated by limitations in freedom of movement which prevented women from
freely going to health centres that are far from their homes.
Another limiting factor which was raised is the price of contraceptives which have gone
beyond the reach of the ordinary woman and are in foreign currency. Some women
lamented the fact that they were failing to negotiate for safe sex with their partners,
resulting in contracting sexually transmitted infections as well as unwanted
pregnancies. This was stated to be as a result of shortage of condoms in retail shops
which are located in their communities. Where the condoms are available, prices are
on the high side. Some women indicated that in order to avoid unprotected sexual
relations they were citing the need for their husbands and partners to observe the
COVID-19 precautionary rule of social distancing but at times this denial of conjugal
rights resulted in domestic violence.
Some women narrated that shortage of condoms resulted in them contracting sexually
transmitted infections. Due to restricted movement and lack of money for medical fees
they failed to access medical care so they are now resorting to self-treatment using
herbal treatments known as “maguchu”. It was also highlighted that due to limited
access to reproductive health care services and condoms, many women are at risk of
3 | P a g e
getting unplanned and unwanted pregnancies during the COVID-19 national
In relation to maternal rights, some pregnant women said that they were being turned
away from ante natal health centres and told to return after the lockdown. It was their
argument that such a position put their lives and those of the unborn babies at risk due
to delays in identification of ante natal problems. Another pertinent issue which was
raised is the closure of shops which sell affordable clothes for new born babies such
that expectant mothers were forced to buy expensive clothes from flea market owners
operating from homes.
Section 77 of the Constitution provides for the right to food and water. With regards to
access to water, women said that they were experiencing challenges in accessing
clean and potable water. It was noted that in both urban and rural communities there
were very few scattered boreholes for people to fetch water. In most cases women
and the girl child bear the burden of sourcing for water. Communities said they were
now resorting to unsafe sources of water which pose risks of outbreak of water borne
diseases such as cholera and typhoid.
In terms of availability of food, women indicated that they were experiencing food
shortages due to exorbitant prices charged by retail shops. Breastfeeding mothers
indicated that they did not have enough food for themselves since they only had one
meal per day. As a result of inadequate food these breastfeeding mothers failed to
produce enough milk for their infants.
In relation to enjoyment of other socio-economic rights, Article 13 (e) of the Maputo
Protocol reiterates on the need to put in place measures for protecting rights of women
involved in informal economic activities. It emerged from the monitoring mission that
women’s sources of livelihoods were negatively affected by the lockdown since the
majority of them work in the informal sector. This was worsened by the fact that some
communities have not yet received food aid and/or cash disbursements either from
government or non-governmental organisations.
4 | P a g e
ZHRC gathered that there was an increase in cases of domestic violence during the
time of monitoring .Women complained that they were going through verbal, physical
and sexual violence which was perpetrated by their husbands. It was explained that
most men were frustrated by the restrictions imposed by the lockdown which
prevented men from going to work or engaging in income generating activities. Some
men also complained that they were also victims of domestic violence being
perpetrated by their wives or partners. They said due to economic hardships and
failure by the men to adequately provide for their families, women challenged their
breadwinner role resulting in break out of domestic violence.
3. Rights of Children
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights
and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) provide guarantees for protection of rights of
children. Sections 19 and 81 of the Constitution also guarantee rights of children. From
its monitoring process, the ZHRC established that children in both urban and rural
communities are at very high risk of malnutrition since most families are surviving on
one meal per day. Nursing mothers indicated that their infants were not getting
adequate breast milk since the mothers are struggling to have a balanced diet.
In relation to child abuse, it was reported that cases of child marriages were rampant
especially in farming communities. It was also highlighted that children were
manipulated to engage in child labour due to hunger which forced them to embark on
part time jobs in order to get food for themselves and their families.
With respect to the right to education, some parents said that their children were
disadvantaged by the introduction of electronic learning (e-learning) due to high prices
data bundles and lack of electronic gadgets necessary for them to participate in online
Stakeholders in the education sector highlighted that opening of schools without
putting in place safety measures first would expose school children, educators and
ancillary staff at learning institutions at risk of infection with COVID-19. The directive
by Government for schools to procure sanitizers and face masks among other items
for their use, was said to be difficult to enforce especially in rural schools where parents
5 | P a g e
struggle to pay enough fees to meet administrative costs of schools. An extra burden
of procuring COVID-19 personal protective equipment and other safety items was said
to be unachievable for most schools. This therefore means that many schools lack
preparedness for the re-opening of schools in June 2020 as scheduled. Calls were
made for Government to intervene by providing clear guidelines for the re-opening
process as well as financial and material support.
4. Rights of Persons with disabilities
Zimbabwe is a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
(CRPD 2006), The CRPD provides that States have the responsibility to ensure the
enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities. Sections 22 and 83 provide for
rights of persons with disabilities. During its field monitoring, the ZHRC noted that the
majority of persons with disabilities survive on vending which has been prohibited by
the lockdown regulations. The Commission was also advised that there were delays
in distribution of humanitarian aid from both Government and private players. This
delay has resulted in unavailability of food and hunger for persons with disabilities. In
a few communities there are limited supplies of food aid which is not enough to benefit
all persons with disability who are experiencing food deficit. Another challenge which
is affecting persons with disability is mobility due to limited public transport and the
requirement to produce exemption letters which they do not have since they are
formally employed and do not belong to the essential services sector.
5. Rights of the older persons
Section 82 of the Constitution provides for rights of older persons. It states that older
persons have the right to social protection but on the ground it was noted that during
the monitoring exercise older persons had limited access to public assistance social
welfare services such as food aid and subsidised medical care. Some of them
indicated that they survive on vending but the income is not enough to sustain them
and the orphaned or abandoned grandchildren whom they look after. However, as a
result of lockdown, they were not able to embark on income generating activities.
With respect to pensioners they said that they were not able to travel to towns or
business centres to collect their monthly pension pay outs. Their plight was aggravated
by the fact that their children who used to support them, were also not working because
6 | P a g e
of the lockdown. In terms of access to health care. Prices for medication for the elderly
especially those with chronic conditions was said to be too expensive and mainly sold
in foreign currency. A significant number of older persons highlighted that due to failure
to raise funds for medication, they end up resorting to unprescribed and untested
traditional herbs.
6. Recommendations
In light of the diverse challenges faced by different segments of vulnerable groups, the
ZHRC proffers the following recommendations:
 The Department of Social Welfare and other organisations providing food relief
should extend their vulnerability assessment criteria beyond older persons and
persons with disabilities, to include other vulnerable people who are constrained
from fending for themselves by the national lockdown, such as pregnant and
nursing mothers.
 The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education should put in place clear and
achievable measures to ensure safety of pupils and staff members in the event
that schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry should provide
schools with requisite resources for protection against COVID-19 in schools.
 The Ministry of Local Government and Public Works should also facilitate
installation of boreholes across the country in both urban and rural communities so
as to relieve women and girls of the burden of walking long distances to fetch water
and wastage of valuable in queues at water points.
 The Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprise
Development should intensify its empowerment programmes to all communities
(urban and rural) where women are struggling to fend for their families and
becoming victims of different forms of domestic violence.
 The Ministry of Health and Child Care should put in place measures that ensure
improved access to sexual and reproductive health rights to all citizens, as well as
safety measure for health personnel so that they feel secure enough to assist
citizens, especially pregnant women and nursing mothers.
7 | P a g e
Hotline: 0771 838 656 or 0786 602 035
Harare Office
144 Samora Machel Avenue, Harare
P. Bag. 7759 Causeway, Harare
Telephone: +263 242 703596/ 703616/701811
Bulawayo Office
49 J.M. Nkomo Street (Between 3rd and 4th Avenue, Bulawayo)
Telephone: 292 64170-73
Facebook Page:
Twitter: @zhrc365