....Children as young as 11 have reportedly been through the youth service programme, whose stated catchment age is between 12 and 30 years. Such training could amount to creating child soldiers, analysts have noted. The new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in force since February 2002, raises the minimum age for military training to 18 and requires strict safeguards for voluntary recruitment.
"Actual training on weapons to youth under 18 amounts to recruitment of child soldiers," explained Enrique Restoy, Africa programme officer at the London-based Coalition Against the Use of Child Soldiers. "We condemn the use of children and youth as instruments of repression and torture."
The militia has been deployed in force during local and national elections. "They have been blatantly used by ZANU-PF as a campaign tool, being given impunity and implicit powers to mount roadblocks, disrupt MDC rallies and intimidate voters," said the report. Alcohol and marijuana consumption occurs routinely during training and deployment, according to former militia members and their victims.
"The militia is turning children into little vandals who murder their uncle and torture their neighbours," said the human rights activist, who asked not to be named.
The youth militia allegedly operate with police complicity and under the command of war veterans. The Kamativi training camp in northern Matabeleland is reportedly run by the notorious "Black Jesus", a war veteran jailed in 2001 for the murders of three opposition activists in Kariba, northern Zimbabwe, but was later freed.
A former militiaman, aged 25, interviewed by researchers in August, explained: "When you move as a group, we felt that we were feared a lot ... Our source of power was this encouragement we were getting, particularly from the police and others ... It was instilled in us that whenever we go out, we are free to do whatever we want."
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena denied police complicity, or that there were widespread acts of political violence by the youth brigades. "For some time we've tried to investigate these cases and found these allegations to be of no substance at all."
Remember Ruanda...remember the Brownshirts...