Widow’s Rejection of Husband’s Relative’s Proposal Upheld and Marital Land Reinstated
December 2, 2022
38-year-old Kou (not her real name) lost her husband in a tragic motorcycle accident in Nimba County. Before she could recover from that loss, she was dispossessed of her farmland because she refused to marry her late husband’s uncle.
The uncle as the eldest in the family was culturally entitled to inherit her and her property but she refused. He however duped her into letting him manage their rubber farm with promises that he would share the proceeds from the sale of the rubber.
He took the land and refused to share the income generated leaving her and her four children destitute. She could no longer pay for food, school fees, and other basic needs.
In some cultures, in Liberia, upon the death of the husband, the woman is forced to marry an uncle or brother to the deceased, and the marital property is claimed by relatives instead of the widow and her children.
However, the 2003 Liberian Inheritance Law – An Act to Govern the Devolution of Estates and Establish the Rights of Inheritance for Spouses of both Statutory and Customary Marriages - has provisions to protect women and safeguard their interests and those of their children under such circumstances.
Sadly, only a few women know about this law and their rights. Many women who got married under customary law think they are their husband’s, and by extension his family’s property because dowry was paid.
UNDP, through the EU/UN Spotlight Initiative, is supporting the community-based organization, CHESS - Community Health Education and Social Services, to build the capacity of grassroots women groups and other civil society organizations so that they can conduct community outreach, engagement, focus group discussions, public awareness, and sensitization campaigns to increase awareness on Liberia’s progressive inheritance law.
CHESS is working with communities in 50 hot spots notorious for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in Nimba County to counter harmful practices such as wife inheritance and dispossession of marital property. CHESS has led many grassroots campaigns to protect the rights of women, girls, and other vulnerable members of society.
Kou is a member of a rural women’s group in her village in Guawin Town that benefited from CHESS’ awareness activities. She learnt about the Inheritance Law and sought help from the organization to mediate the disagreement with her late husband’s uncle.
In response to her plea for help, CHESS organized a meeting with local leaders to explain the inheritance rights law and how it gave Kou the right to own property after the death of her husband and to choose her own husband.
At the end of the meeting, the local leaders agreed that Kou was entitled to her husband’s property and turned it over to her. “Thanks to UNDP, CHESS, and all the other partners for helping women like me know our rights,” said Kou.
Together with her children, she is now enjoying the full benefits of the investments made on their land by her late husband.
Section 3.2 of the 2003 Liberian Inheritance Law provides that upon the husband’s death, the widow or multiple widows shall be entitled to only one-third (1/3) of their late husband’s property; the balance two thirds (2/3) of the decedent’s property shall descend to his children, if any, or to his collateral heirs according to the Decedents Estates Law.
Section 3.3 of the same law also provides that after the death of the husband, the customary widow or multiples thereof shall be at liberty either to remain on the premises of their late husband to administer said estate, or to take another husband of their choice and shall vacate the premises of the late husband in as much the new marriage entered automatically reverse said rights and same property return to the heirs or children of the late husband.