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Land Theft

For poor families, a small patch of land is often the only source of critical food and shelter. But scores of vulnerable widows have this lifeline stolen from them after their husbands die.

Powerful relatives or neighbors steal their land with violence, or prey on orphans in their time of need. Victims are left hungry, homeless and deeply afraid.

Too often, local justice officials treat this crime as a “family matter” and tell a widow to settle with her abusers.Without accountability, criminals continue to thrive and their victims are trapped in the cycle of poverty.

The Facts arrow-simple-bottom

Widows are particularly vulnerable to land theft. There are more than 115 million widows living in extreme poverty around the world—with half a billion children depending on these widows for survival. [1]

By 2020, 1.5 billion of the world’s urban poor will live in informal settlements and slums without any secure right to their property. [2]

An estimated 90% of rural sub-Saharan Africans have no proof of ownership for land where they live and work—leaving them even more vulnerable to violent land grabbing. [3]

[1] Sylvia B. Ondimba. “The World Must Support Its Widows.” The Guardian. June 23, 2011. Web. Available online.
[2] UN-HABITAT. “Secure Land Rights for All” Available online.
[3] Ibid

Women in developing countries are particularly at risk to property grabbing, especially in contexts in which they are viewed as less valuable, subordinate or even as property themselves.

In Africa, property grabbing often happens after the death of a husband or father, when widows and orphans are particularly vulnerable. Relatives or neighbours quickly divide up the home or land, and the surviving widow or orphans are left homeless and stripped of their belongings.

If a widow refuses to leave, she and her children may be chased out violently. Women and children we have represented report being menaced, threatened with machetes and physically assaulted; some have had their homes destroyed by perpetrators intent on making their property uninhabitable.

The perpetrators of property grabbing are often related to their victims, so police may dismiss cases as a “family matter.” Law enforcement agencies lack the training and resources to meet the overwhelming need.

With no help from the justice system, survival itself becomes a struggle for a victim of property grabbing. Homeless, she may be forced to relocate somewhere dangerous, or be extremely vulnerable to exploitation as she searches for a home. She may not be able to afford or access food, medical care or other vital needs for herself or her children.

IJM protects widows, orphans and other vulnerable people from land theft in Uganda.

Rescue the Victims
We restore widows and orphans to their homes and defend them against ongoing threats of violence.

Bring criminals to justice
We bring criminal cases against perpetrators, particularly where violence, intimidation or fraud have been used.

Restore survivors
We provide urgent medical care and counselling, ensure that children can go to school and, where needed, help women begin income-generating projects.

Strengthen justice systems
We provide training and hands-on mentoring to police and local leaders on the effective enforcement of land theft laws.

Help victims of Land Theft today.

You can send help to families suffering abuse.