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Widows Want Commercial Wife Inheritance Abolished

Panafrican News Agency, 29 December 2000

Nairobi, Kenya - About 30 widows attending a seminar in Siaya, near the Lake Victoria port town of Kisumu have called for the abolition of the age-old custom of wife inheritance, the Kenyan news agency reported in Nairobi Friday. The women are particularly incensed by the so-called "commercial wife inheritors" charging that they have of late become too costly to maintain in homes.

The agency said the women, who are attending a Widow and Widower seminar, criticised the custom, saying it exposed them to contacting HIV/AIDS. The inheritors also demand for expensive foods and clothes, hence depleting the meagre resources of the affected families.

The women were unanimous that traditional norms forcing widows to be inherited should be stopped because the practice degraded the dignity of women and plunged them into poverty.

The seminar is organised by the Siaya Government Hospital through its Sexually Transmitted Infection programme, and is aimed at sensitising widows and widowers on retrogressive traditional practices fuelling the spread of AIDS in the district.

Siaya Medical Officer, Dr George Obong'o says the widows and widowers are particularly vulnerable to the disease since traditions among the Luo community inn Nyanza province dictate that a widow be inherited.

Obong'o cited that 35 out of every 100 pregnant women visiting the hospital tested HIV positive, while four out of 10 people were also positive in the district.

"Widows and Widowers are now faced with dangers of contracting HIV/AIDS like never before," he warned.

He suggested that both parties should seek the HIV/AIDS status of those they intend to marry if it was absolutely necessary to inherit a spouse.

Wife inheritance is still strong among many tribes in Western Kenya particularly the Luo, who take it as one of their most important traditional rites in disregard to campaigns against it by the authorities, religious organisations and NGOs, who term it "archaic, outdated and retrogressive."

Avowed advocates of the tradition argue that it is one way that society maintains itself as part of a wider cultural set up, and the kinship network.

They also argue that upon the death of either spouse, the survivor is likely to experience loss, unless the in-laws move in with both physical and moral support.

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