House Proposes Five Month Mourning Leave for Widows, Four Week for Widowers

Juliet Akoje in Abuja

The House of Representatives yesterday has passed for second reading a bill for an Act seeking to provide the implementation of a Widowhood Leave in Nigeria.

The bill titled: ‘Widowhood Leave Bill, 2023 (hb.401)’ was sponsored by Hon. Said Musa Abdullahi (Bida/gbako/Katcha federal constituency of Niger State).

Presenting the bill, Abdullahi said by introducing Widowhood Leave, it acknowledges the unique challenges faced by widows and widowers, and provide them with the necessary time and space to grieve, seek counseling, and adjust to the new realities, adding that the support can significantly contribute to their emotional healing and overall resilience.

He said it allows widows to focus on caring for their children and other family members who may be dependent on them during this challenging time.

According to him, “It also allows widows to fulfill some religious and cultural obligations. For example, a Muslim widow is expected to perform Iddah (waiting period) for a period of four months and 10 days. During this period, she would not be expected to attend to any function outside her home and she is not required to interface with any man that is not her immediate relation. You will recall that this bill was presented and scaled first reading on the floor of this hallowed chamber on July 27, 2023.”

The lawmaker said: “Widows and widowers in Nigeria face numerous challenges following the loss of their spouses. They are often left to single-handedly care for their children and attend to pressing family matters. This crucial piece of legislation aims to address the pressing issue of supporting individuals who have lost their spouses, helping them to navigate the challenging period of widowhood.

“This bill is divided into five clauses. The first clause specified the period of leave that is formally grantable to a widow and widower with full entitlement to their pays. The second clause defines the persons who are eligible for the leave and the third clause states the punishment for the violation of the Bill. Meanwhile, the fourth clause provides for the interpretation of the terms ‘widow’ and ‘widower’.

“Widowhood legislation has been enacted in many countries around the world, for instance, widows are entitled to 15 days of paid leave in India, while widows are entitled to 60 days of leave with pay in Philippines. It is important to recognise that the Nigerian Labour Act (2004) does not explicitly provide for any form of leaves that covers widowhood leave warranting a much-needed review. However, despite this lacuna in the law, organisations around the country make provision for bereavement leave, a time off work given to employees when faced with the death of spouses.

“In fact, some organisations go a step further to offer some form of financial support formally and informally.”

Research findings have shown that in Nigeria, public sector organisations grant Bereavement Leave for 14 days. This is no doubt derived from the Public Sector Rules which state in clause 100230 that: “An officer may be allowed special leave from duty on full pay on compassionate ground for a period up to two weeks for the burial of spouse/child/parents/parents of spouse.”

He further said: “Considering that in countries like Australia and Brazil, Bereavement Leave is typically two days, and in countries like Canada, France, Spain, and the US, it is usually three days. Therefore, one may say the 14 days prescribed by Public Sector Rules is sufficient but when one looks at the prevalent cultural and religious practices of Nigeria, it seems inadequate. It is always necessary that an organisation looks at the cultural context as the way people mourn is deeply rooted in culture.

“In Eastern Nigeria, for instance, the burial of the deceased usually takes place after a few weeks or months (depending on the family) and the mourning period for a widow in modern times is three months even though traditionally it is up to a year. In Islam, while mourning is usually three days, the waiting period for a widow is up to four months. During this period, the bereaved spouse receives visitors for at least a month. Therefore, with our culture in view, giving a widower 30 days and a widow five months of Widowhood Leave for the death of a spouse may be reasonable.”

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