The Nigerian House of Representatives is considering a bill that would make cultural rights that impinge on widows’ fundamental human rights illegal. ayokinews.com reports
The bill prohibits in-laws from taking over a late husband’s property and forbids a widow from marrying her deceased husband’s brothers.
The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021, according to Punch, particularly specifies and describes cultural customs, some of which are considered mourning ceremonies that must be done by a widow.
The bill aims to amend the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act No. 19, 2015, to “prohibit widow discrimination and all forms of repressive and degrading widowhood practices, allow for victim remedies, and sanction offenders.”
By putting definitions into Section 46 of the Act, the bill proposes a change.
Part of the proposed insertion reads:
“Consent means free, full, mutual, voluntary and informed decision not extracted under pressure or vitiated by external factors such as constraint, and consent is absent when coercive methods are used such as pressure of various kinds, emotional blackmail, physical duress, violence, abduction, confinement and confiscation of official papers to deny a person the option of refusal.
“Harmful widowhood practices mean all traditional behaviour, attitude, or practices, which negatively affect the rights of a widow and include (a) compelling a widow to (i) express her sorrow of losing a husband by wearing black, white or any other colour of clothes, not taking her bath or having a change of clothes, or wailing and falling against her will, (ii) go into seclusion for any length of time, (iii) sleep in the same space with the body of her deceased husband, (iv) un-weave her hair, keep a low cut, shave or scrape her hairs, (v) sit or sleep on a bare floor or mat, (vi) cook or eat from broken plates, (vii) swear to an oath or drink the bath water of her deceased husband in order to prove her innocence of any allegation or as part of cultural practice, (viii) under any guise, whether levirate or sororate, enter any form of marriage without her consent, or (ix) undergo any other repressive and degrading widowhood practices.
“(b) Maltreatment of a widow; (c) property grabbing against a widow; (d) willing of the matrimonial home to another person when the late husband is survived by a widow who has not remarried.
(e) Transfer of the legal guardianship of a child of a widow to another person unless it is proven that (i) she is of unsound mind and body, or (ii) vesting guardianship of the child with her would be detrimental to the interests and welfare of the child; or (f) disinheriting a widow from a property jointly owned by her late husband and in-laws.
Discrimination against a widow, in the bill is defined as “any distinction, exclusion, or restriction made on the basis of her being widowed,” whereas levirate marriage is defined as a widow’s marriage to her deceased husband’s brother.
The bill further reads:
Maltreatment of widows includes domestic violence, sexual assault, forced marriage, trafficking, property grabbing, conversion of property, forced evictions, repressive widowhood practices as well as discrimination against widows.
Property grabbing includes taking of property of a deceased person from his widow or children and such property may include the marital home, land, or any other moveable or non-moveable property.
Surrogate marriage means a husband engaging in marriage or sexual relations with the sister of his wife, usually after the death of his wife or if his wife is proven to be barren.
Meanwhile, a widow who lives with her in-laws or parents because of custom, tradition, or other circumstances “must not be denied access to the facilities under this bill on that account,” according to the bill.
The bill also proposes a “National Day for the Prohibition of Discrimination Against Widows, Women, and Girls,” which would be observed on May 23 each year.
The bill also states that the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) will also be in charge of enforcing the new law.