Vagrancy Laws: Discrimination based on poverty and status

SALC: On 31 May 2023, 28 men were arrested in Harare CBD under the country’s vagrancy laws. These arrests raise the question of why vagrancy laws still exist and are still being used. At least 22 African countries still have vagrancy laws, and Zimbabwe is the latest African country to use vagrancy laws to criminalise poverty and status.


The Vagrancy Act states that a vagrant is any person with no settled or fixed place of abode or means of support, wanders from place to place, and maintains himself by begging or in some dishonest or disreputable manner. The Act also allows a police officer to arrest without a warrant any person he reasonably suspects to be a vagrant. It also criminalises any person who assists or encourages vagrancy. Although the law is framed as “rehabilitative,” it punishes people for living in poverty, being homeless, or living on the street. In most countries that still have vagrancy laws, the definition of a “vagrant” is similar to that of Zimbabwe’s Vagrancy Act.

Section 46 of the criminal code of Zimbabwe contains in it nuisance laws that criminalise persons for offences such as allowing a dog or animal to pursue a vehicle, screaming or shouting in public to the annoyance of the public, and employing any means likely to materially interfere with the ordinary comfort, convenience, peace or quiet of the public or any section of the public, or does any act which is likely to create a nuisance or obstruction.

These laws are vague and overbroad, making them open to misuse and abuse and create petty offences that carry fines and potential detention. These laws also do not clearly state what constitutes a nuisance and thus are open to interpretation by law enforcement agencies.

Read full article: Vagrancy Laws: Discrimination based on poverty and status

Photo: Terry Feuerborn/

9 June, 2023
Type of Update:
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Alternatives to Criminalisation
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Southern Africa Litigation Centre

The Campaign to Decriminalise Poverty and Status is a coalition of organisations from across the world that advocate for the repeal of laws that target people based on poverty, status or for their activism.


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