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womens rights to inheritance in Cameroon

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Inheritance is a critical mode of property transfers in many Sub-Saharan African countries.[1] At significant life course transitions such as death, birth, marriage and retirement, an individual’s or group’s accumulated physical assets (or rights of access to these assets) are distributed according to social conventions, personal preferences and potentially strategic designs. This redistribution of assets can affect various individuals’ economic trajectories in positive or negative ways.[2] Property heirs gain in economic security, either in their accumulation of new assets or in the affirmation of their rights to assets they had previously accessed. Other people may lose their previously existing rights to assets as a result of inheritance decisions that exclude them.

Examinations of women’s poverty commonly focus on the security of women’s access to assets, and especially land African contexts.[3] Women’s ownership of land leads to improvements in women’s welfare, productivity, equality, and empowerment, a proposition that has gained resonance in the international development policy arena.[4]

Inheritance has gained profile as a public policy issue in African countries for several reasons. Most prominently, inheritance has been tackled as part of the larger problem of property rights regimes that are discriminatory against women. International and domestic campaigns to redress women’s unequal property rights in African countries have advocated changes to inheritance systems within a broader reform agenda.[5]

A major vulnerability for inheritance rights experienced among the vast majority of women in African countries is their insecure recognition as spouses with rights to marital property, either during or after the period of marriage.[6] This is true under customary as well as statutory systems of governance. Key issues relate to this insecurity: Customary marriages may be informally entered or exited and therefore spouse status is contestable during inheritance disputes; customary marriages are rarely legally registered and therefore women cannot claim spouse status under statutory inheritance laws. Statutory laws do not recognize a wife’s contributions to acquisition of marital property and statutory inheritance laws do not make adequate provision for wives in polygamous unions.[7]

Attaining equality between women and men and eliminating all forms of discrimination against women are fundamental human rights and United Nations values.[8] In this light, a good number of international Conventions have been ratified by states that protect women’s rights to inheritance to wit: the Convention for the elimination of all Forms Discrimination Against Women, the International Bill of Rights,[9] the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights to name a few.

In Cameroon, there exists a framework for the protection of women’s rights to inheritance. The starting point for this framework is the Constitution of Cameroon, Civil Status Registration Ordinance, Non-Contentious Probate Rules of 1954 and 46(1) of the Administration of Estates Act 1925 and the French Civil Code of 1804. The Supreme Court’s decision in the landmark case of Zamcho Florence Lum v. Chibikom Peter Fru[10] lends credence to the fact that women’s right inheritance is protected in Cameroon. In this case, the Supreme Court of Cameroon overturning the decision of the Court of Appeal held that the customary principle that denies a female the right to inherit her father’s property or to be declared next of kin is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience.


There is a legal framework for the protection of women’s rights to inheritance in Cameroon; nevertheless, this framework is not a ‘bed of roses’. Women marginalization or better still inequality is a common phenomenon in Cameroon. Cameroon is yet to faithfully abide by the dictates of international and national legal instruments protecting women as a vulnerable group.[11] Women are subjected to archaic customs that are discriminatory

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