Defining Other Forms of Forced Marriage: Wife Inheritance, Levirate and Sororate Marriages
last updated October 2014

In partnership with UN Women, The Advocates for Human Rights created the following sections for UN Women's Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls. This section, along with sections addressing other forms of violence against women and girls, may be found under Legislation at

Drafters should also ensure that laws prohibit discrimination against women and girls and condemn discriminatory practices. Laws should prohibit and punish all forms of wife inheritance, levirate and sororate marriage. Levirate marriage is the forced marriage of a widow to the brother of her deceased husband; sororate marriage is the forced marriage of the sister of a deceased or infertile wife to marry or have sex with her brother-in-law, the widower/husband. Specifically, laws should prohibit any institution or practice where a widow may be inherited by another person or a widow or sister is forced to marry her brother-in-law or other relative. Also, laws should punish those who aid or authorize these types of forced marriages. Laws should guarantee women equality before the law with men, particularly equal legal capacity and ability to exercise that capacity in civil matters. Laws should guarantee women equal rights with men in regard to marriage, including the same right to enter into marriage, the same right to freely choose a spouse and equal rights at the dissolution of marriage. (See: Maltreatment of Widows; Sexual Assault; see: Addressing Customary Laws and Practices that Conflict with Formal Laws)

Drafters should address discrimination against women with regard to their children and eliminate laws and practices that remove the child from a widow’s custody without a judicial determination on the child’s best interests. Drafters should guarantee to women and men the same rights and responsibilities with regard to matters relating to their children, including guardianship, wardship, trusteeship and adoption. Laws should ensure that widows automatically become the guardian of their children upon the death of their husband, unless the child’s best interests dictate otherwise. Specifically, laws should bar separation of a child from his or her parent except in circumstances where a judicial authority has determined such separation is in the child’s best interests.

(See: Maltreatment of Widows)