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Children Born Out of Wedlock Equally Entitled to Assets, Judge Rules

Zimbabwe’s High Court judge, Justice Hlekani Mwayera, has received praise from many of the country’s child and women’s rights groups, for what they call her landmark ruling, giving children born out of wedlock, full entitlement to their parents’ assets.

Justice Mwayera made this ruling in light of a case brought before the courts by Harare widow, Elsie Bhila, who, as reported by the state-controlled Herald newspaper, had tried to stop her late husband’s three children from benefitting from his estate, because they were born out of wedlock.

In making her judgement, Justice Mwayera reportedly referred to Section 56 (3) of the 2013 constitution, guaranteeing “every person” the right not be discriminated against unfairly, on any grounds, including “whether they were born in or out of wedlock.”

Praising the judgment, senior legal program’s officer for Women and Law in Southern Africa, Dorcas Makaza Kanyimo, said the ruling brought clarity and equality to women and children whose rights she said often clashed when it came to inheritance law.

“This judgement brings about that equality that we were seeking that is being stated in the Constitution, under Section 56, where it’s promoting non-discrimination,” said Makaza Kanyimo.

With regards to the equal entitlement to property and other assets, for children born out of wedlock, Makaza Kanyimo said children born out of a relation other than a traditionally recognized marriage, risked being sidelined when it came to inheritance.

She explained that “the difference was on the marriage. If the marriage was a civil marriage, out of wedlock children had no [entitlement]. The best they could get was maintenance from that deceased’s estate,” said Makaza Kanyimo.

Justice Mwayera is seen as a strong advocate for women. In 2013 she gave an 18-year-jail sentence to a man charged with killing his pregnant wife. She called on the courts, at the time, to impose stiffer penalties on jail breakers.

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