Gender and Land Rights Database


Inheritance legal mechanisms

  • The Succession Act, Cap. 162 (1964) as amended by the Succession (Amendment) Decree (1972):
    - The Act is rooted in a tradition of patrilinealism, customary practices and Islamic law. Although the Act recognizes women’s right to inherit from their husbands, inequalities in inheritance rights have not been addressed in the 1972 amending decree and still restrict women’s rights to land.

    - Article 1(7)(n): the definition of “legal heir” effectively legitimizes the devolution of the residential holding to the oldest male descendant.

    - Section 27: identifies four classes of heir: the customary heir, the wives, the dependent relatives, and the lineal descendants. Upon death, lineal descendants receive 75 percent of the male intestate while the wife or the wives (in polygamous marriages) receive only 15 percent of the estate.

    - 2nd Schedule, Section 7-8: the right to occupy the residential holding terminates upon the widow’s remarriage, but not the widower’s. By extension, this also terminates her right to cultivate, farm or till any land adjoining a residential holding, depriving her and her dependent children of a means of subsistence (21).
  • Under customary law, it is assumed that the welfare of the widow and the children will be taken care of by the deceased’s kin. In practice, this is usually not the case because the widow and her children are dispossessed of the family’s assets and usually forced to move back to the widow’s parents’ home, where she becomes dependent on her male relatives.
  • There is an overlap between customary practices and Sharia law; as a consequence, women inherit even less. Women inherit less also because of the phenomenon of polygamy since the co-wives have to share.
  • According to the Quran, only one-third of a deceased’s estate can be included in a will. The remaining two-thirds are distributed under intestacy rules laid down in the Quran, which have fixed the shares allocated to heirs. Persons recognized as heirs include the widow or widower, father, mother and children. Grandparents will only inherit when the heirs in the nuclear family cannot inherit. In general, a male under the Quran takes double the share of the female.
  • When a man dies leaving a wife and children, the wife receives one-eighth of the net estate. When there are no children, the wife receives one-fourth of the estate. In polygamous marriages, the wives share the one-eighth, if there are children, or the one-fourth, if there are no children (11).

Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography