In-laws from hell grab property, kids of widows

A husband’s death opens a chapter of misery and abuse from people the wife had taken as her second family. Women driven to depression by relatives open up in this first of two parts on the subject

In Summary

• Widows have to fight their in-laws to inherit what their husbands left behind.

• The Gender ministry wants to amend the Succession Act to protect widows and their children.

Roselyne Orwa leads a group of widows during a protest marking International Widows Day.
Roselyne Orwa leads a group of widows during a protest marking International Widows Day.
Image: FILE

Her life and that of her four children took a U-turn immediately the person she had loved and shared bittersweet memories with took his last breath.

Martha* (not her real name) had vowed to love and care for her husband in sickness and in health, and had stood by him even when the doctors gave up.

Death not only took him away but also her friends, her dignity and her in-laws, whom she had known for close to eight years.


As the world celebrated International Widow’s Day last month, Martha recounted how her husband’s death opened a chapter of misery and abuse from people she had taken as her second family.

Martha met Francis in 2009 at a wedding where both of them were on the bridal party line-up.

Theirs was love on first sight, and by the end of that wedding, they had exchanged contacts.

A year later, they were the bride and groom as they tied the knot before their families and friends.

“When Francis introduced me to his family, they warmly welcomed me, despite our tribal and cultural differences, and I made an effort to learn their language and traditions," Martha said.

Eight years down the line, the couple had been blessed with four children.

However, tragedy struck the family in February last year, when Francis died.


“He had been diagnosed with a kidney problem and needed a transplant. However, we could not get a donor, as most people, including his family members, were not compatible and did not meet the requirements," she said.


As the burial preparations began, she could not take part due to the shock of losing her husband and, therefore, she appointed her brother to stand in for her.

What she did not know is that this step had been misunderstood and negatively interpreted by her in-laws.

“During the burial at their rural home, there were rumours which I ignored. I wished I had been keen on them because they were the red flags,” she said.

After family and friends had left and she remained alone with her children, she was summoned by the in-laws and informed that she would have to accommodate one of the deceased’s brothers at her house back in the city.

Her protests to have the said brother, who was old enough to live by himself, landed on the deaf ears.

That is how the journey to her misery, pain and suffering started.

A few months later, her in-laws travelled to Nairobi, where they summoned her and ordered that they be furnished with all documents concerning the properties she owned with the deceased.

Sensing danger, she rushed to court, where she sought to stop her eviction or interference of the properties by her in-laws.

Even though the court issued injunction orders, the matter has remained undetermined, as the in-laws have been filing numerous applications, which have delayed the hearing and, therefore, she lacks powers to administrate the estate.

“It has been frustrating. I cannot visit my husband’s grave because I cannot step there. We are now living as bitter enemies just because of properties, which we will all die and leave in this world," she said.

Martha hopes for a day she will get justice and maybe reunite with her in-laws.

Until when should widows continue to live in anguish, pain and suffering over the greed of their in-laws?
Rhetorical question


Claire’s husband left home for work one day a healthy man. That was the last time she saw him alive.

They had been married for two years and had a daughter. On that morning in May last year, Claire bid him goodbye as she dropped their daughter at a daycare, as their house help had resigned.

“Next call I received was that my husband had collapsed in the office and I should rush to a certain hospital. That was the beginning of my ending," narrates Claire with tears.

What she did not know was that Mwaniki had died even before he was rushed to hospital, and his co-workers had hidden that from her to enable her get to the hospital.

“It was darkness all over. It was too painful for him to just go without telling me. I had a lot of questions that went unanswered. How could I be a widow at 28 years?" she said.

Prior to Mwaniki’s death, the couple had a minor disagreement over whether they should build a house at the rural home or on a land they had bought somewhere else.

Claire preferred settling on the new land, which was big enough to do some farming, while her husband preferred building at his rural home.

Claire’s mistake was to confide to one of her sisters-in-law, whom she had told about the disagreement, not knowing that that normal conversation would be used against her.

Even before the burial, the family was accusing her of poisoning her husband, despite a post-mortem report revealing he had died from a heart attack.

“They said I  killed my husband so I could inherit the land we had bought. I could not take in the pain of losing a husband and being accused of killing him. It was too much for me, “she said.

Claire sunk into depression, and her family had to take her back and watch over her as she came to terms with Mwaniki’s death and the allegations.

She sought not to fight for the inheritance and left everything to her in-laws.

“I only left with my daughter and our clothes. I did not want anything that would connect me with them. It is a year now, they have never bothered to check on how their son’s daughter is faring," she said.


Mercy, too, lost her husband of three years through a tragic accident at his working place.

Allan worked as a security officer and accidentally shot himself during a routine patrol while on duty. The incident in June last year led to his demise, leaving behind a young family.

After the burial, things with Mercy's in-laws took a turn for the worse.

“I blame my naivety, I trusted them a lot. I even lived with them. But after my husband’s death, reality dawned on me that I was bound for a rough journey," she said.

After the mourning period, she requested to go back to her family, but this did not go down well with her in-laws.

They first demanded she leave everything she had bought with her husband in the house, and she innocently obeyed.

But even before she left, she was hit with another shock: she was told to leave behind her two-year-old daughter.

“This was the last blow. My daughter was the only thing that reminded me of my husband. How I could leave her with them?" she said.

Mercy, however, walked out with her daughter, despite their protests, leaving behind everything she had built with her husband for the short period they were married.

However, the in-laws confiscated some important documents her daughter will need in future, such as death certificate.

Once widowed, many women are invariably confronted by denial of inheritance and land rights. They are also subjected to degrading and life-threatening mourning and burial rites, and other forms of widow abuse, including being left homeless with their children
Gender Affairs PS Safina Kwekwe


Martha's, Claire's and Mercy’s stories are not unique, but until when should widows continue to live in anguish, pain and suffering over the greed of their in-laws?

Currently, Kenya is estimated to have 894,853 widows. To address the plight of widows, the UN has put in place international conventions and protocols, such as the convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.

The convention widely tackles women's rights, including inheritance of widows. In the Kenyan constitution, the law prohibits any form of discrimination against any person on any grounds, such as sex, ethnicity, marital status or age.

Nevetheless, amendments are being made to the Succession Act to illegalise and criminalise some cultural practices, such as widow inheritance and ritual cleansing.

The amendments will see the provision on protection of widows from immediate eviction from their matrimonial homes.

The law will include protection of their property rights, access to socio-economic opportunities and protection against outlawed cultural practices.


A message from Gender Affairs CS Margaret Kobia on marking the International Widows Day acknowledged that cultural beliefs and practices have subjected widows to untold suffering and discrimination.

Kobia said her ministry is aware of the challenges and sufferings widows endured once they lose their husbands, which has resulted in depression, emotional torture and financial constraints, but women have remained strong in fending for their families single-handedly.

She pledged to work with agencies that work with widows to ensure the banning of discriminatory laws against widows.

Gender Affairs PS Safina Kwekwe said the annual day should be used to denounce discrimination, abuse of widows and promote protection of their rights.

Kwekwe said most communities in Kenya have tied rights of women to their husbands, therefore losing them once they lose their husbands.

“Once widowed, many women are invariably confronted by denial of inheritance and land rights. They are also subjected to degrading and life-threatening mourning and burial rites, and other forms of widow abuse, including being left homeless with their children," she said.

In line with this year’s theme of “empowering widows through vocational skills training", the PS hoped both private and public sectors will come forward to partner with the ministry. They would work together to improve the socio-economic well-being of widows by empowering them with skills in industry and trade through vocational training.

Edited by Tom Jalio

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