ZIMBABWE (Karanga, Matabele, Shona, Nambyans, Shangaani; ® Lemba, ® Atonga, Ambo)



IndexAfrica→ Zimbabwe


In Zimbabwe, Symington (1972)[1] found a mean age of male coitarche of 18, earliest at age seven. In another study, the median age of first sexual intercourse was 19 for females aged 14-24), and 18 for males aged 14-21 (Boohene et al., 1991)[2].

Twenty one per cent of rural and urban secondary school boys aged 12 years reported having had intercourse (Campbell and Mbizvo, 1994)[3]. According to another study, children might initiate sex, at an earliest age at eight, “although some indicated body experiments between children as early as four years (Loewenson et al., 1997:p11)[4]. Youths found themselves “able to decide about sex” at age 14.0 (rural boys), 17.0 (urban boys), 13.9 (rural girls), and 16.6 (urban girls) (p10). Some customs were recognised that might lead to sexual abuse of children (p29): “Chiramu” or “Sibale” (“a custom aimed at socialising children that induced touching young girls, leading to touching of young girls private parts”); “kuzvarira” (“young girls pledged in marriage”); “ngozi” (“young girls handed over as compensation to an injured family”); “chikwambo” (visible or invisible objects are “instructed to have sex with children”).

The Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture has introduced sex education in primary schools in spite of the controversy that still surrounds it (Mapfumo, 1999)[5]. The author comments on the breakdown of sex education roles for aunts and uncles as a result of contact with the European family system. The study demonstrated that most of the sixth and seventh grade pupils felt comfortable to discuss sex with their teachers, while most did not with their parents, although 82% felt their parents had positive attitudes toward sex education.

In pre-colonial days, homosexuality was disapproved of “at least beyond adolescence” (Epprecht)[6].


In an interesting recent project[7] it was learned from parents that they


“[…] conceded that “culture is silent on boys’ sexual maturation, it is an adventure for the growing boy”; “usually boys picks it up (sexual maturation information) as they grow”. In addition to the taboos associated with mention of sexual and reproductive organs, there were taboos associated with processes of sexual maturation. Girls must be informed through women and boys through males. They mentioned a taboo called “a woman rule”, i.e., it should not be discovered by a male that a girl is having a menstrual period. Further, it was taboo also for women and girls in their periods to cook food for the family. Finally, they indicated that it was a taboo for a father to “know” his daughter’s bedroom. […] While there are initiation ceremonies they cited, these were conducted for all male or all female groups.  Parents lacked knowledge of what goes in ceremonies of the opposite sex. These ceremonies led by aunts or by uncles initiate children into womanhood or manhood. The ceremonies are conducted for boys and girls who show obvious signs of maturation. There were cultural taboos associated with growing up. For example, menstruating girls are not allowed to cook or handle salt. Mothers smeared breast milk on the child’s penis or vagina with the intent to “cool off the sexual desire” in growing up. It was important for children to know these traditions although parents admitted that they did not adequately prepare them for coping and managing sexual maturation. The issue of sexual maturation was one parents believed all stakeholders should be involved in, “the whole is the sum of its parts”. If the media, parents, the church, and the school collaborate, the children will be equipped with appropriate sexual maturation information.  […] At age 8, children must be introduced to their body parts, “it is the best age to highlight the changes that are expected to take place”. At 9-10 years, they should be taught about erections, wet dreams and menstruation, and how to manage them. At 11-12 years, they required “constant reminding” of their body parts, functions, managing menstruation, and becoming an acceptable member of society. They perceived that teaching of sexual maturation should use “mild language” as it was culturally taboo to state names of reproductive organs. By age 8, they believed children knew names of reproductive organs in the mother language. What was considered to be mild language was as follows: for penis (chiweti, chinyama, mushonga, willy, pipi), for vagina (chinunu, chibhanzi, huku, dori, fanny, tambi), menstruatiion (kugeza, kunguva, kutevera, kuperiod), and for wet dreams (kuputudza, kuzvirotera). […] Graffiti in the boys’ toilet showed terms “mboro” (penis).”



Featured: Karanga, Matabele, Shona, Nambyans, Shangaani; ®Lemba, ®Atonga




Additional refs.:


§         Center for Reproductive Law & Policy (CRLP) (2001) Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives: Anglophone Africa. Progress Report, p130-52;

§         Center for Reproductive Law & Policy (CRLP) and Child Law Foundation (CLF) (2002) State of Denial: Adolescent Reproductive Rights in Zimbabwe. Research Report, p18-9

§         Pettifor, A. E., van der Straten, A., Dunbar, M. S. et al. (2004) Early age of first sex: a risk factor for HIV infection among women in Zimbabwe, AIDS18,10:1435-42

§         Skovdal, Morten (2003) Gender, Youth and AIDS - Collective Struggles and Strategies in Uganda and Zimbabwe. WVP [http://www.worldvoicespositive.org/pdf/Gender,%20Youth%20and%20HIV%20Journal.pdf]

  • Smyth, B. (2000) The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Southern Africa. ECPAT International, p52-61 [fulltext at http://www.ecpat.net/eng]
  • Breaking Silence: Gendered and Sexual Identities and HIV/AIDS and Education, UNICEF 2003 [http://www.unicef.org/lifeskills/files/BreakingSilence.gender.HIV.RegionalFinal040703.doc]
  • Loewenson, R. & Chikamba, M. (1995/6) Sexual abuse of children in Zimbabwe, in Old ways: New theories, Volume 1, Harare, Connect, p90-112 / Paper presented to "Old Ways - New Theories: Traditional and Contemporary Family Therapy Connect in Africa", an International Conference, Harare, 31 July -3 August 1995
  • Loewenson, R. & Chikamba, M. (1994) Sexual abuse of children in Zimbawe. Report of an Action Research Project. Unpublished, Training and Research Support Centre, 47, Van Praagh AvenueHarare, Zimbabwe
  • Schatz, P. & Dzvimbo, K. P. (2001) The adolescent sexual world and AIDS prevention: a democratic approach to programme design in Zimbabwe, Health Promotion International 16,2:127-36 [http://heapro.oupjournals.org/cgi/content/full/16/2/127]
  • Gender Violence in Schools 5: Zimbabwe. March 2004 [http://www.sussex.ac.uk/education/documents/zimbabwe_.pdf]




Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Apr 2005


[1]Symington. R. B. (1972) Sexual behavior of Rhodesian Africans, J Biosoc Sci 4,3:263-75

[2] Boohene, E., Tsodzai, J., Hardee-Cleaveland, K., Weir, Sh. & Janowitz, B. (1991) Fertility and Contraceptive Use Among Young Adults in Harare, Zimbabwe, Stud in Fam Plann 22,4:264-71

[3] Campbell, B. & Mbizvo, M. T. (1994) Sexual behaviour and HIV knowledge among adolescent boys in Zimbabwe, Cent Afr J Med 40,9:245-50

[4] Op.cit.

[5] Mapfumo, Ph. (1999) Sex education in Zimbabwean schools: a case study of HoughtonPark primary school, Zimbabwe J Educ Res 11,2:57-81

[6] Epprecht, M. (1998) The “Unsaying” of Indigenous Homosexualities in Zimbabwe: Mapping a Blindspot in an African Masculinity, J Southern Afr Stud 24,4:631-51

[7] GROWING UP - Developing Instructional Materials on Growing Up and Sexual Maturation. QUEST Research Reports 2004, KyambogoUniversity. Reports linked from http://www.questafrica.org/rr_zimbabwe.html