Property Rights & Tenure Security

Property Rights & Tenure SecurityPhoto: George Mulula

Access to land defines the existence of many poor people. Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes property rights as a fundamental human right. Yet the absence or insecurity of property rights remains a central cause of poverty, especially in the very poorest countries. The focus on property rights, as envisaged in the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor report, on the one hand seeks to expand the legal protection of assets of the poor and on the other, promote the access to property by the poor.

The lack of access to land and other natural resources is often a major source of disenfranchisement particularly for women and other vulnerable groups. The number of women who own property, for example, is a fraction of the same number for men, a problem often perpetuated by laws and customary arrangements that clearly favour men. Many indigenous populations around the world also face the threat of disenfranchisement because of loosely defined property rights which are often not adequately recognized by law.

Property rights help to establish clear ties of rights, obligations, responsibilities and recognition in a community. They are often the basis on which people establish their legal identity, exercise voting rights or access basic services like electricity. These basic opportunities can be a powerful means to climb out of poverty.

A fully functional and equitable property rights system - with effective regulation and oversight by the State authorities - can ensure that assets can be legally transferred from one person to another and can help people to access a loan to start a small business or purchase a home. At the same time, poor people must be protected by the law so that they can own, use and dispose of their property as they see fit.