UN delegates call on Tonga to give women land rights a decade after report recommended it

Tonga has been urged to give women the right to inherit and own land.

At a recent meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva,  delegates from New Zealand, Great Britain, the United States, Australia and Brail said Tonga should give Tongan women the right to inherit land.

Lord Tu’i’āfitu, the Minister of Lands and Survey

The call came a decade after the Tongan Royal Land Commission recommended women and expatriates be given rights to land.

Tongan law and traditional custom forbids land ownership by women. Only a son can inherit land with rights passed on to other male relatives if parents do not produce a male heir.

Under the current law Tongans are not allowed to own land outright but men over the age of 16 are allowed to hold land by grant or by lease.

Women are allowed to lease land but are not given grants and Tongans who move overseas forfeit their land rights.

Radio New Zealand quoted Brazilian delegate Tovar Nunes as saying the kingdom should ratify the convention on legislation to remove all forms of discrimination against women, in particular the right to own land and inherit it.

The campaign for women to have equal rights in land ownership has been on for several decades.

In 2006 the Privy Council approved a proposal to explore laws to allow women to inherit registered parcels of land if there was no direct male heir.

An official in the Prime Minister’s office, Lopeti Senituli, says at the time it would be the most significant amendment ever made to Tonga’s land laws.

Ofa Guttenbeil Likiliki of the Tongan Women’s Action Group for Change, said women’s groups had long pushed for amendments. She said the government should call nationwide consultations before changing the law.

In 2012, after intensive consultation with landowners and the public, the Royal Commission into land recommended the law be changed to allow women to own land, but still with some restrictions.

Commissioner Lord Tevita Tupou told RNZ it had recommended changing the law so women were given rights to town allotments, which are used for housing, but not larger rural allotments which were used for farming.

“That will give them the right over that piece of land to lease out or to mortgage out for further development of that piece of land,” Lord Tevita said.

“The other allotment we thought would not be appropriate for women because that’s really for men to work, for planting crops and things. It’s not for homes.”

Lord Tupou says he hoped some of the recommendations would be made into law by the end of 2012.

The Commission made a number of recommendations regarding women and land. Among the key ones were that the termination of an unmarried daughter’s right upon proof of her having committed adultery or fornication is repealed.

That the restriction on the inheritance of a daughter when she marries should be removed. Where there is no male heir of the deceased landholder, his daughters shall succeed as follows.

That a widow be allowed to lease or mortgage the land she holds as a widow but only with the consent of the heir.

That the rights of a widow to land that has been newly acquired by her husband should allow her to lease or mortgage the land with the consent of the heir, and where she had no children with her husband, then consent is not required.

That a deserted wife shall have the right to remain on the family land and home with her children until she remarries or dies.

A decade on, there is little if any sign of any change having been made.

When asked  by Kaniva News what progress had been made, a senior official at the Ministry of Land and Survey said there had been a little change.

It is understood the Ministry is currently concentrating on dealing with complaints against the Ministry lodged with the Ombudsman and some land court cases.

Kaniva comment

Kaniva News would welcome any move by the Ministry to finally incorporate the report’s recommendations in the main schedule of its work. It would certainly be a chance to upgrade them. There seems no logical objection in this day and age to women having access to agricultural land that could make them financially independent.

A decade ago concerns about rising seas were a concern and as the threat of global warming continues, the loss of land to the sea will continue to be a major concern. How will the government help landowners and leaseholders whose land disappears below the waves?

The Royal Commission made many excellent recommendations. It is Right time the Ministry acted on them.

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