The term Levirate is a derivative of the Latin word levir meaning “husband’s brother”. Levirate marriage is a type of marriage in which the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother’s widow, and the widow is obliged to marry her deceased husband’s brother. Levirate marriage has been practiced by societies with a strong tribal structure in which exogamous marriage (i.e. marriage outside the tribe) was forbidden.
In Zimbabwe Levirate marriage is traditionally practised by the SHONA and it is commonly known as “Kugara nhaka”.Under the practice, the younger brother is the one who can “inherit” the wife of the elder brother. The elder brother is not allowed to “inherit” the wife of the younger brother. Unlike other countries where the elder brother or younger is allowed to marry the deceased widow.
Levirate marriage can, at its most positive, serve as protection for the widow and her children, ensuring that they have a male provider and protector. Levirate marriage can be a positive in a society where women cannot are not self-sufficient and must rely on men to provide for them, especially in societies where women are under the authority of, dependent on, in servitude to or regarded as possessions of their husbands, and to ensure the survival of the tribe. A levirate marriage might only occur if a man died childless, in order to continue his family line.
Many other countries such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Somalia and other Asian countries still practise this kind of marriages but efforts are being made to put an end to it as its one of the factors contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS in these countries.