"With limited and insecure land rights, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the poor to overcome poverty."– Dr. Hamid Rashid, United Nations

For poor families, a house and a small patch of land are often their only source of shelter, food and desperately needed income. But for many people in poverty—particularly widowed women and orphaned children—even this fragile foundation is not safe. Powerful relatives or neighbors often steal their meager property with violence or lies, and fear no consequences.

Grace's Story

“I couldn’t send my kids to school before, and now I can send them to school and be safe in my home.”

– Rose, IJM Uganda client restored to her home

  • Widows are particularly vulnerable to land theft. There are more than 115 million widows living in extreme poverty around the world—with half a billion children depending on these widows for survival.1
  • By 2020, 1.5 billion of the world’s urban poor will live in informal settlements and slums without any secure right to their property.2
  • An estimated 90% of rural sub-Saharan Africans have no proof of ownership for land where they live and work—leaving them even more vulnerable to violent land grabbing.3

Women in developing countries are particularly at risk to land theft, especially in contexts in which they are viewed as less valuable, subordinate or even as property themselves.

In Africa, land theft often happens after the death of a husband or father, when widows and orphans are particularly vulnerable. Relatives or neighbors quickly divide up the home or land, and the surviving widow or orphans are left homeless and stripped of their belongings.

If a widow refuses to leave, she and her children may be chased out violently. Women and children we have represented report being menaced, threatened with machetes and physically assaulted; some have had their homes destroyed by perpetrators intent on making their property uninhabitable.

The perpetrators of land theft are often related to their victims, so police may dismiss cases as a “family matter.” Law enforcement agencies lack the training and resources to meet the overwhelming need.

With no help from the justice system, survival itself becomes a struggle for a victim of land theft. Homeless, she may be forced to relocate somewhere dangerous, or be extremely vulnerable to exploitation as she searches for a home. She may not be able to afford or access food, medical care or other vital needs for herself or her children.

IJM protects widows, orphans and other vulnerable people from land theft in Uganda.


We restore widows and orphans to their homes and defend them against ongoing threats of violence.


We bring criminal cases against perpetrators, particularly where violence, intimidation or fraud have been used.


We provide urgent medical care and counseling, ensure that children can go to school and, where needed, help women begin income-generating projects.


We provide training and hands-on mentoring to police and local leaders on the effective enforcement of land theft laws.

1Sylvia B. Ondimba. “The World Must Support Its Widows.” The Guardian. June 23, 2011. Web. Available online.

2UN-HABITAT. “Secure Land Rights for All.” Available online.