Young women, girls suffer in inheritance disputes

Shamwari Yemwanasikana founder Eke Chifamba

THE sudden death of a local family man in Karoi farming town was hard to accept as well as unpredictable for his young children, the eldest being 13.

While mourners were gripped in a sombre mood, a few greedy relatives could not hide their desire to pounce on the property he left behind.

They abandoned processing the necessary burial procedures in search of his will and properties for easy pickings.

Unprepared for life without their breadwinner, his children, including the 13-year-old girl, had their life turned upside down before their father was even buried.

Such a sad reality is part of the inheritance challenges facing most families in Zimbabwe where greedy in-laws and relatives are quick to grab properties and businesses of the deceased.

Young women and girls are suffering silently because of injustices in the handling of the inheritance matters by their greedy relatives.

Eke Chifamba, an award-winning girl rights activist and founder of Shamwari Yemwanasikana, said surveys showed that the affected young women and girls end up turning into commercial sex workers, drugs and substance abusers.

“Some of the girls will be forced into child marriages to help their siblings,” she said.

Her organisation operates in Mashonaland Central, East, Manicaland, Masvingo (Chiredzi), and Harare provinces.

“Once the estate is awarded to a close relative, he or she may move the benefits to undeserving children. This has resulted in some young women and girls being subjected to sexual abuse as they try to fend for their siblings or surviving parents,” she said.

Chifamba said this turned upside down the future of children of the deceased.

“We have several kids left stranded and become street kids. The young women and girls are exploited sexually and become child sex workers just to fend for themselves and their siblings,” she said.

“This has resulted in high cases of child marriages emanating from inheritance gone wrong at families and communities.”

Chifamba said desperation also exposed the young women and girls to child trafficking syndicates, some involving their relatives.

“Some of them are so desperate to move out of bad situations and become the latest victims of human trafficking at local, regional or global level where they are given fake opportunities to move away and fend for their siblings or surviving parents,” she said.

The customary law says that the surviving spouse receives the immovable property in which they were living and one-third of the net estate.

In instances where the deceased had more than one wife, one-third of the estate is shared between the two wives with the two-thirds being shared equally among the children, says the law.

Although girl rights activists have spoken of abuse, inheritance remains one of silent challenges robbing children and surviving spouses of the deceased.

“The situation has become so bad for young women and girls over inheritance issues. They have not been spared in any of the issues that affect inheritance daily,” Chifamba noted.

Young Christian Women Association Zimbabwe secretary-general Muchanyara Cynthia Mukamuri said there was need for society to consider the rights of the surviving spouse and children when handling inheritance matters especially where there is no will left behind.

“Wife inheritance for instance was heavily discouraged due to HIV and Aids. In some instances, some greedy relatives would impound assets of the deceased without consideration of the surviving spouse and children,” Mukamuri said.

“This practice would expose the family of the deceased to poverty and prone to abuse.”

Mukamuri, however, noted that modern societal laws enable the surviving spouse and children as the ultimate beneficiaries of the estate of the deceased.

“This protects resources that should be used to look after the family. Inheritance is made easy where there is a will.

“In the absence of the will in this economic downturn greedy relatives prey on the resources of the deceased without consideration of the needs of the immediate family.”

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