Practice Relating to Rule 136. Recruitment of Child Soldiers
Zimbabwe’s National Service Act (1979), as amended in 2001, states:
NATIONAL SERVICE OTHER THAN EMERGENCY NATIONAL SERVICE
9. Liability to undergo Phase I and Phase II Service
(1) Subject to this Act
(a) every resident who has –
(i) attained the age of eighteen years but has not attained the age of twenty-five years, shall be liable to undergo Phase I Service;
(ii) completed Phase I Service and has not attained the age of thirty years, shall be liable to undergo Phase II Service for a period which shall not exceed five years from the 1st January after the date on which he completed Phase I Service;
10. Volunteering for Phase I Service
(1) Any resident may apply to be permitted to undergo Phase I Service by appearing in person before or making written application to the Director and such resident may, with the permission of the Minister, undergo such service.
(2) This Act shall apply to a resident referred to in subsection (1) who is permitted to undergo Phase I Service as it applies to a resident who is liable to undergo Phase I Service.
EMERGENCY NATIONAL SERVICE
17. Emergency National Service
(1) Every resident who has attained the age of eighteen years but has not attained the age of fifty years shall be liable to render emergency National Service inside or outside Zimbabwe in the interests of defence, public safety or public order, whether or not such resident has undergone any other period of National Service, …
18. Volunteering for emergency National Service
(1) A resident who volunteers to undergo emergency National Service in a designated Service may, with the permission of the Director, be engaged for emergency National Service in that designated Service.
Zimbabwe’s Constitution (2013) states:
Chapter 4 – Declaration of Rights
81. Rights of children
(1) Every child, that is to say every boy and girl under the age of eighteen years, has the right –
(g) not to be recruited into a militia force or to take part in armed conflict or hostilities;
86. Limitation of rights and freedoms
(2) The fundamental rights and freedoms set out in this Chapter may be limited only in terms of a law of general application and to the extent that the limitation is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors, including –
(b) the purpose of the limitation, in particular whether it is necessary in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, regional or town planning or the general public interest;
(3) No law may limit the following rights enshrined in this Chapter, and no person may violate them –
87. Limitations during public emergency
(1) In addition to the limitations permitted by section 86, the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in this Chapter may be further limited by a written law providing for measures to deal with situations arising during a period of public emergency, but only to the extent permitted by this section and the Second Schedule.
(4) No law that provides for a declaration of a state of emergency, and no legislative or other measure taken in consequence of such a declaration may –
(a) indemnify, or permit or authorise an indemnity for, the State or any institution or agency of the government at any level, or any other person, in respect of any unlawful act; or
(b) limit any of the rights referred to in section 86(3), or authorise or permit any of those rights to be violated.
In 1995, in its initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Zimbabwe stated:
35. In terms of article 38 of the Convention, whose concern is children in armed conflict, there is no specific recruitment age into the armed forces that is stipulated within the law. 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.
51. The minimum age for voluntary enlistment and conscription into the armed forces, as provided by section 27 of the Defence Act [Chap. 94] and National Service Act No. 19 of 1979, is 18 years.
242. Children in armed conflicts (art. 38).
The Legal Age of Majority in Zimbabwe is 18 years. In terms of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, a 15-year-old child can be recruited into the armed forces. 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.
In 1996, during the consideration of Zimbabwe’s initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, a statement of the delegation of Zimbabwe was summarized by the Committee in its records as follows:
[T]here was a contradiction between the information given in paragraphs 51 and 242 of the [initial] report. The minimum age for voluntary enlistment in the army was, indeed, 18. However, conscription as such did not exist since there are often too many volunteers now that Zimbabwe was trying to reduce the number of its military personnel.
In 2013, upon ratification of the 2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, Zimbabwe made the following declaration:
Pursuant to Article 3, paragraph  of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict the Republic of Zimbabwe do hereby declare that:
In terms of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Standing Orders, recruitment of members into the Defence Forces is voluntary but restricted to the ages of between 18 and 22 years. However, Zimbabwe contemplates to include this provision in its statutory law for certainty and consistency despite the fact that no problems have been encountered.
To ensure that every recruit is 18 years of age, every potential recruit must be in possession of his/her National Identity Card, Birth Certificate and school and professional certificates before he is recruited into the Defence Forces.
He/she also undergoes thorough medical and physical examinations in order to ascertain his/her … age.
Recruitment commences at District Centres to ensure that there is equal representation of all members who join the Defence Forces, throughout the country.
[A]ll recruitments into the Zimbabwe Defence Forces are voluntary and [recruitment] is strictly for those who are of the age of 18 years.
In 2013, in its second periodic report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Zimbabwe stated:
Voluntary enlistment and conscription into the armed forces
100. The age of capability to engage in National Service remains at 18 as reported in the Initial Report.
101. The minimum age of conscription remains 18 years, as was initially reported.
2. Children in armed conflicts (art. 38), including physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration (art. 39)
374. In terms of the National Service Act … persons can volunteer to join the army only at the age of 18 years. Where an emergency arises, the law obliges the government to recruit persons of 18 years and above for national service. The minimum age of participation in hostilities is therefore 18 years. Further by acceding to the Geneva Convention, Zimbabwe protects her children from early recruitment, as she is also obliged by her international obligations.