Recruits at Zimbabwe's notorious youth camps live in substandard barracks, get very little food and may be at risk of sexual abuse, a new report said on Thursday.

Trainees at the National Youth Service camps set up in 2001 supposedly to instil patriotism in young Zimbabweans frequently go to bed hungry and are fed a monotonous diet of sadza (corn paste) and beans or cabbage for lunch, according to a parliamentary report.

Members of parliament, including some from President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party, toured several National Youth Service camps and vocational training centres, which are also government- funded.

They were horrified at what they found, said the report, which was quoted by the independent Financial Gazette newspaper.

It was the first time ruling party members have ventured criticism of the National Youth Service.

Critics of Mugabe's government have long accused the authorities of encouraging rights abuses inside National Youth Service camps, alleging that trainees are brainwashed into beating up opposition supporters.

But Mugabe's officials normally angrily refute the charges. Earlier this month deputy Youth Minister Saviour Kasukuwere maintained the programme was a noble idea and said that soon all youths would have to undergo training.

But the parliamentary report paints a bleak picture of dilapidated dormitories, minimal rations and for females the fear of sexual abuse.

At one camp, in the southern Matabeleland region, the barracks had no doors or windows, the report said. Some youths complained they had found snakes inside the building.

At Kaguvi Vocational Training Centre, MPs heard how one youth had his arms broken in a scuffle with army personnel over delays in the provision of meals.

There were worrying reports that some female recruits to the National Youth Service had been sexually abused by male instructors and trainees, said the Financial Gazette.

The MPs have called for a police investigation into the allegations of violence. - Sapa-dpa