CHRDA recognizes and applauds the efforts made by the lawmakers in drafting a specific code that enunciates the rights of persons and the family. The code stands as a contemporary legislative document that seeks to promote the fundamental rights of persons and the family. The much-advocated change in the nationality law is reflective in the document as the recent code now recognizes dual nationality in section 81 of the code.
However, it is worth stating that, despite the meaningful contributions this code adds to our existing domestic laws, the code if promulgated into law, takes the country a step backward towards the protection of the ‘spouses’ rights in Cameroon.
Section 919 of the draft code on persons and the family stands as a major setback for spouses and most especially widows in Cameroon.
This concern arises from the wording and expression of Section 919 of the Bill, which reads:
“Intestate succession shall devolve by application of the law to the parents and to the surviving spouse in the following order:
- Surviving spouse
- The State.”
For a clearer understanding, the Bill proposes that where a spouse dies without leaving a will (intestate), the surviving spouse’s right to inherit the property of the deceased comes after that of the children, the parents of the deceased, the brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunts of the deceased.
This provision of the law contrasts sharply with what presently obtains in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, where the administration of estates act and the non-contentious probate rules give the surviving spouse a prime position and extra protection in the inheritance and in the administration of estates. The new provision is a replica of the law currently enforced in the French-speaking regions and which has been a source of untold sufferings to some widows.
CHRDA wishes to highlight the plights of women and widows in particular which is still to be addressed 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 is imperative to consider that, in the traditional Cameroonian context, most married women own property under the names of their husbands; also, some husbands even prevent their wives from working and as such make her dependent on him entirely for her wellbeing.
The need for a legal provision to expressly protect the widow cannot be overemphasized especially considering that customary laws and practices still operate in most parts of the Country. Thus, relegating the surviving spouse to the last position in the line of inheritance within the family, may, therefore, lead to untold hardship and suffering.
CHRDA, therefore, calls on the lawmakers, as they prepare to make this groundbreaking legislation by voting this Bill, to put much thought into ensuring the protection of the woman and the widow in particular in the line of inheritance. CHRDA while working with women over the years recognizes that some customary practices are stacked against the widow.
A review of the order of succession proposed in the new law opens a new door of justice to the widow who has often been left in an impoverished position.