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The Battle for Home: How Property Grabbing Has Divided One Family in Uganda

A battle that has lasted nearly as long as Charles has been alive is ending soon: This week, a man and woman were arrested and charged for stealing and selling off land that should belong to Charles, now 19, and his two orphaned siblings.

In Uganda, many people don’t realize that stealing the land of an orphan or widow is even a crime. It is rare for opportunists who steal the homes of weaker members of their community to ever be held accountable.

In fact, in a recent IJM study, only 6.3% of widows said they would feel confident to pursue criminal action against a person who chased them out of their home.

Arrests like these show that property grabbing is a crime with serious legal consequences—and are an important part of IJM’s strategy to ensure vulnerable people can count on their police and court systems for protection.

The Struggle to Survive

Since their father died in 1997, Charles and his older brother and sister two siblings have been raised by their grandparents. The children should have inherited their father’s home, but an aunt stepped in and took the property for herself.

A couple years ago, when Charles was in the tenth grade, he confronted his aunt about the property. He wanted to plant crops on the land so that he could earn money he needed to stay in school. She not only refused to let him cultivate his land, she threatened Charles and started selling portions of the small plot of land. While she profited from selling the children’s home, Charles had to drop out of high school because he didn’t have the small amount needed to pay for school fees.

When one interested buyer refused to finalize a land purchase without the legal property owner’s involvement, the aunt got another man to forge her deceased brother’s signature.

“I felt fearful and worried because I couldn’t do anything about it,” 19-year-old Charles says. “I went to the clan leaders and told them what had happened. They told me to wait and they would convene a meeting, but my aunt never came for the meeting. The clan leaders said there was nothing else they could do.”

A Radio Message Changes Charles’ Story

Until last year, Charles did not think there was any hope of ever getting his family’s land back. Then, he explains: “On my community radio I heard an advert about IJM that said that they help widows and orphans with land issues and that they were offering a legal class in my village, so I went for help.”

During the seminar—sponsored by one of IJM’s local church partners—IJM lawyers and staff explained that property grabbing is a crime punishable by Ugandan law. Charles knew right away that he and his siblings had been robbed of land that is lawfully theirs. The IJM team heard his story and took on his case in January of this year.

Finally, after 9 months of working on the case, Charles’ aunt and the man who forged the signature for the land sale were arrested on September 22. They remain incarcerated, and a judge will make a decision next week.

As Charles waits for that final verdict, he says: “I had lost hope of recovering my land, but now I have hope that I will get it back.”

Watch Grace's story to learn more about property grabbing in Uganda and how IJM is helping authorities protect widows and orphans.

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