Widow inheritance (also known as bride inheritance) is a cultural and social practice whereby a widow is required to marry a male relative of her late husband, often his brother. Examples of widow inheritance can be found in ancient and biblical times in the form of levirate marriage.
The practice was meant as a means for the widow to have someone to support her and her children financially, and to keep her late husband's wealth within the family bloodline. At the time it was initiated, women were responsible for the house chores and men were the providers, therefore if the woman lost her husband, she would have no one to provide for the remaining family. Because her in-laws would not want someone outside of the family's blood line to inherit her late husband's estate, she was required to marry within the family.
This can have various forms and functions in different cultures, serving in relative proportions as a social protection for, and control over, the widow and her children. She may have the right to require her late husband's extended family to provide her with a new man, or conversely she might have the obligation to accept the man put forward by the family, with no real prospect of turning him down, if her birth family will not accept her back into their home.
The custom is sometimes justified on the basis that it ensures that the wealth does not leave the patrilineal family. It is also sometimes justified as a protection for the widow and her children.
Widow inheritance by region
It is common in certain African groups, for example the Dinka or Jieng of South Sudan, Luo in Kenya and Uganda around Lake Victoria. Households headed by widows are often one of the poorest groups. Under customary law, it is assumed widows and their children will be taken care of by the deceased's kin. When there is a will and testament, often all property is left to the children with the stipulation that the wife be taken care of. With no will, widow is allowed 25% of the estate and the children inherit the remaining 75%.
In 1998, a study by FAO/IFAD in Ghana found that women's access to land was primarily through their husbands. When a husband dies, and the wife has no children or only daughters, women are likely to lose all rights to the land. Often, the deceased's family do not take care of the widow and her children, and widow inheritance was identified as a major obstacle to household food security.
- "Uganda, Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire - The situation of widows". www.ifad.org. Retrieved 2015-05-27.
- Datamation Foundation