Atlantic Chronicles

Beware Of Section 919 Of Draft Bill, Law Makers Cautioned

NEWS, Society

BUEA, Cameroon – The Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, CHRDA, has predicted untold hardship and suffering among Cameroonian widows as proposed bill may deny them right to inheritance.

Section 919 is Contrary to Common Law Practice, CHRDA Stated.

“The Cameroon Law Makers should protect Widow’s Rights when voting into Law a new Bill on Code on Persons and the Family,” the human rights Institution holds.

Recently, the Cameroon Government sent Section 919 of the draft code on Persons and the Family to the Lower House of Parliament.

The draft states that “Intestate succession shall devolve by application of the law to the parents and to the surviving spouse in the following order: Descendants, Forebears, Collaterals, Surviving spouse, the State.”

 The Bill, CHRDA says, stands as a major setback for spouses and most especially widows in Cameroon.

“The Bill in considering the Collateral (brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties, cousins) before the surviving spouse wipes justice and fairness from the application of the law,” it decries.

Since it was proposed, many have been arguing. While some say the Bill will empower women to be hard-working, people like Violet Yigha Fokum (Ph.D), who is CHRDA’s Executive Director and Barrister Babienne Sona think it is an attempt to deny women their rights.

This inheritance before the proposed Bill stated that the spouse was the first in the line of inheritance as regards the English Cameroon Customary laws. Now, the spouse has been pushed to the fourth position.

The spouse in this case according to Violet Yigha and Barrister Sona, refers to both man and woman legally married.

This they argued can prevent couples from engaging in joint properties during marriages.

Political Conspiracy Against Women? Get The Justification

The June 2020 Draft Code for Persons and the Family under ‘Order of Succession’ stipulates in Section 919 that Intestate succession shall devolve by application of the law to the parents and to the surviving spouse in the following order: descendants, forebears, collaterals, surviving spouse and State. According to ‘Statista,’ the mortality rate for Cameroonians aged 15 – 60 years between 2008 and 2018 puts women at 28.1 per cent as opposed to 31.7 per cent for men. Besides, several other factors cause women in Cameroon to marry young such as national and customary laws, which continue to permit polygamy thereby allowing older men to marry more than one younger woman as spouse. In addition, the myriads of ethnic customs in Cameroon uphold values which discriminate against women and manifest in forms like forced and early marriages.

There are several reasons why this draft plays discriminately against Cameroonian women. First and foremost, statistics prove that male husbands in Cameroon die more in numbers annually before their female spouses. Most times, these men die without leaving a written will. In such a condition, which is very common, such a law will make the wife to lose her chances of inheriting the properties which she most often must have worked very hard together with her husband to acquire.

In Cameroon, consideration of the will for women is very unpopular; it is very uncommon for a woman who dies to be asked of her will. Will writing in Cameroon remains a male-dominated practice and these inequalities in economic resources, roles and responsibilities are contributing to a lot of practices discriminating against women in Cameroon. 

In this case, it would not be relevant whether spouses consent in marriage to joint properties or not because the law would take its course in case of the death of a spouse with no will, and reap the beneficiary who is mostly the woman, of all their rightful possessions. It should be recalled that when the woman dies, the man automatically inherits every property without having any intervention from the State or the ethnic groups to which he belongs. 

It proves very discriminatory for the female spouse to be categorised at the fourth position of inheritance in intestate under this draft Code. In case such a law is passed, it will counter the provisions of international treaties, conventions and protocols. The Maputo Protocol which was ratified by Cameroon in 2009 provides in its Article 21(1) that: ‘A widow shall have the right to an equitable share in the inheritance of the property of her husband. A widow shall have the right to continue to live in the matrimonial house’. Also, the Government of Cameroon ratified the “Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women” (CEDAW) commonly referred to as the international bill of rights on women, on the 26th of August 1994 without reservations; ratification obligates the State party to utilise all measures at its disposal to ensure the effective implementation of CEDAW and to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women as soon as possible. CEDAW outlines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. CEDAW defines discrimination against women as; “…any distinction, exclusion, or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field”. 

During the 65th Session of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, CESCR, in 2019, the national body of ‘Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’, WILPF, pointed out that the Government of Cameroon was non-compliant to the recommendation of the CESCR in 2012, in adopting ‘a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation’. Considering Section 919 of the Family Code for adoption, therefore, confirms WILPF claim that, “….the legal framework as regards non-discrimination is relatively developed in Cameroon. However, discrimination against women is still persistent…. Indeed, Cameroon has two systems of jurisdiction, the jurisdiction of statutory law and that of traditional courts, which apply customary law often discriminatory against women.”

Discrimination against women based on their sex is a clear indication of the promotion of patriarchy which is totally against the ideology of the African Feminist Charter, which has as mission to dismantle patriarchy in all sectors in African nations. Patriarchy and discrimination are root causes of violence against women and the effects are quite devastating for women from physical to psychological, from loss of wealth, to loss to health and life.

In 2012, the International Covenant on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of men and women which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1966 and enforced in 1976, to which Cameroon is a Party, recommended that Cameroon should ensure that statutory law prevails over customary law when it is discriminatory, especially against women. Also, the Committee recommended that Cameroon ensures that the relevant provisions of the Family Code, the Labour Code and the Penal Code are amended as quickly as possible and that any provisions discriminating against women are dropped from bills currently under consideration.

 The Committee had also recommended the strengthening of the legislative framework to combat violence against women and girls, including by criminalizing domestic violence, sexual harassment and marital rape. Yet, the Civil Code includes discriminatory provisions against women and its reform has been awaited for almost 20 years. 

The Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa hereby disapproves the consideration of the June 2020 Draft Code on the Person and the Family under Section 919 and recommends that the Government should involve women and stakeholders promoting women’s rights to deliberate and draft a comprehensive Code that voids all forms of discrimination and inequalities against women.

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