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FACTBOX-Global number of widows rises as war and disease take toll

by Emma Batha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 22 June 2017 23:01 GMT

A woman carries an improvised plastic can to fetch water from a well outside Denganmal village, Maharashtra, India, April 20, 2015. In Denganmal, some men take a second or third wife to make sure their households have enough drinking water. Becoming "water wives" allows the women, often widows or single mothers, to regain respect in conservative rural India by carrying water from the well quite some distance from the remote village. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

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Widow "cleansing" rituals in Africa may require a widow to drink the water used to wash her dead husband's body or to have sex with an in-law or a stranger

By Emma Batha

LONDON, June 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Millions of widows worldwide suffer crushing poverty and persecution.

Many are left destitute - robbed of their inheritance - while others are enslaved by their in-laws, accused of witchcraft or forced into abusive sexual rituals.

International Widows' Day on June 23 aims to raise awareness of the often hidden injustices faced by widows.

Here are some facts:

  • There are an estimated 258.5 million widows globally with 584.6 million offspring.
  • Deaths through conflict and disease contributed to a 9 percent rise in the number of widows between 2010 and 2015.
  • The biggest jump has been in the Middle East and North Africa, where the estimated number of widows rose 24 percent between 2010 and 2015, partly due to the Syrian war and other conflicts.
  • One in seven widows globally - 38 million - lives in extreme poverty.
  • One in 10 women of marital age is widowed. The proportion is about one in five in Afghanistan and Ukraine.
  • A third of widows worldwide live in India or China. India, with an estimated 46 million widows in 2015, has overtaken China (44.6 million) to become the country with the largest number of widows.
  • Widow "cleansing" rituals in some sub-Saharan countries may require a widow to drink the water used to wash her dead husband's body or to have sex with an in-law or a stranger.
  • Campaigners for widows' rights say such rituals, which are intended to rid a widow of her husband's spirit, spread disease and are a violation of dignity.
  • Widows are regularly accused of killing their husbands either deliberately or through neglect - including by transmitting HIV/AIDS - in India, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Property seizures and evictions by the late husband's family are widespread in many places including Angola, Bangladesh, Botswana, India, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
  • A significant number of girls are widowed in childhood - a reflection of the prevalence of child marriage in developing countries and the custom of marrying off young girls to much older men.

(Source: World Widows Report published by the Loomba Foundation) (Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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