Human Rights Watch has called on the government of Zimbabwe to put in place mechanisms that ensure all marriages are registered to protect the inheritance rights of widows.
In a report titled “You Will Get Nothing: Violations of Property and Inheritance Rights of Widows in Zimbabwe”, launched on Tuesday in Harare, Human Rights Watch said government should ensure that all existing and new marriages including customary unions are officially registered in a central registry with digital records accessible throughout the country as proof of marriage.
The report, which is a culmination of a research conducted in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru and two small towns in Zimbabwe noted that the lack of registration of customary unions is one of the most significant enablers of the grabbing of property of widows in Zimbabwe.
“Widows without registered marriage certificates were easy targets for property grabbing because of the difficulties proving a marriage after a husband’s death,” reads part of the report.
The report also noted that women who married as children without opportunity to go to school were less likely to have independence from their husbands during their marriages and when they become widows, they may have fewer resources or ability to pursue a remedy in the face of property grabbing.
Property grabbing according to the report, affected women in various ways with some women interviewed saying it drove them into poverty, some becoming homeless with a high rate of school dropouts for orphaned children.
Human Rights further noted that widows face difficulties in accessing legal remedies.
“In many of the cases brought to the attention of Human Rights Watch, knowledge about property rights, inheritance rights and civil and customary law on marriage were major obstacles to protecting widows’ property,” reads the report.
The research further noted that many widows interviewed said that at the time of their husbands’ deaths, they had no clue as to how to challenge property grabbing.
Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development Ivan Dumba who represented the government at the launch of the report said poverty, ignorance and embedded traditional issues were responsible for most of the inheritance disputes recorded in the country.
“When we look at the inheritance rights, we should not look at it as a simple issue, we need to get to the bottom of the matter,” said Dumba.
He further called on civil society organisations working on such issues to take on board church leaders and traditional leadership since they are influential people who can help in educating their communities and members on the importance of registering marriages.
HRW also called on the government to engage in public awareness campaigns to counter unlawful property grabbing and encourage marriage registration as well as informing widows of their inheritance rights.