Zimbabwean and South African bishops have issued a damning report on the Zimbabwe government's youth militia program. The bishops say the program has turned many of the country's young people into torturers, murderers and rapists.

The bishops say the national youth service program is in fact a paramilitary training organization designed to make Zimbabwe's young people anti-democratic, racist and xenophobic. They say the ruling ZANU-PF party is using the young people to bolster its campaign against its opponents. The bishops say the stated goals of the program - to teach both job and life skills - are a subterfuge.

Bishops Trevor Ncube of Zimbabwe and Kevin Dowling of South Africa released the results of a study conducted by the Solidarity Peace Trust, an organization of bishops from the two countries. The data was compiled from news reports, observations by clergymen, militia training material, and interviews with former members of the youth militia and some of their victims.

The study indicates that the young people were indoctrinated and then ordered to carry out instructions from their political leaders, knowing that they would never have to account for their illegal actions in any court.

The study also found that many of the 50,000 young militia members - most of them compelled to join - are themselves victims of human rights abuses. The bishops said that among the worst of these abuses are rapes of young girls in the militia by their male colleagues and by military instructors.

A nineteen-year-old, known as Debbie to protect her identity, said she and other girls and young women were repeatedly raped. She said those who complained to the trainers were told complainers were members of the opposition, and they were threatened with execution. Debbie is now HIV positive and has a one-year-old daughter.

Two young militiamen described for the report how they participated in murders. One said he was involved in the murder of an opposition leader in January of last year. The other said he was one of 25 youths who tortured and burned to death a farmer and his family. He said they first raped the wife and two daughters, aged four and 12.