Property rights are not only about ownership of land. They provide reasons for people to invest in and develop their homes and communities.
That is what Malcolm Childress says about the importance of studying people’s opinions about property rights. Childress is co-director of the Prindex research group.
“You know when people have security and feel secure about their property rights, they’re more likely to want to invest in their homes to make long term investments in businesses to do the kind of things in agriculture that lead to long term crops and investment in soil conservation.”
A new study by Prindex found that one in four people questioned in 33 countries fear losing their homes or land. Most of the countries surveyed are in Africa. The others included Britain, Cambodia, Colombia, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam.
One surprising finding, however, was that the East African nation of Rwanda had the lowest property insecurity in the countries studied. Only eight percent of those asked feared losing their homes or property in the coming years.
Childress said that Rwanda has, in recent years, put in place a policy to document each property and to identify who has rights to that land. He added that Rwandan officials have created a system which provides legal protections to land holders.
These are the kinds of policies that will lead to progress on the issue of land rights, he said.
Three other countries had the highest levels of what the survey calls “tenure insecurity,” a person’s fear of losing their home or land. The three were Mali, Liberia and Jordan. Mali had the highest. Forty-four percent of those asked feared they would lose their homes or land.
Insecurity was highest in West and Central Africa and lowest in Latin American countries, the study found.
Childress said that the differences between countries were not as surprising as the differences between men and women within countries.
In the study, women were more likely than men to have fears of losing their homes or land. Women were about 12 percent more likely to be concerned about losing their home or land if they split with their husband or the husband dies.
Childress says elected officials need to direct more attention to making laws fair for men and women. He added that people’s concerns can also be affected by how well laws are carried out in the real world.
The report noted that countries with laws guaranteeing equal treatment of the sexes may still have imbalances in citizens’ concerns about property rights. The study did not find a strong relationship between “tenure insecurity” and legal issues like inheritance rights in many places.
Property rights and easing poverty
Anna Locke is the other Co-director of Prindex. She wrote in the company’s blog that property rights are listed under poverty reduction as one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. She said the U.N. calls for increasing the number of adults with “legally documented property rights” and also the number of adults who believe their rights are secure.
Prindex’s studies, she said, are one way to better understand what people around the word believe about their property.
Property rights are included with the goal on reducing poverty because people’s expectations of the future are important to forming their behavior today. For example, farmers afraid of losing their land are unlikely to plant crops for the next harvest.
Prindex expects to expand its studies of people’s opinions about their property rights and protections. Childress told VOA that the research group plans to release information on 107 additional countries by the end of the year.
He also says he wants the research to center more narrowly on individual cities and places where policies could target geographical areas or groups.
Prindex recently released the findings from its latest study at an event in Washington.
The study was carried out with support from the Global Alliance for Land and the Overseas Development Institute. Both research groups are based in Britain.
I’m Mario Ritter Jr.
Mario Ritter Jr. wrote this report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
*An older version of this story mistakenly stated that three African countries had the highest levels of "tenure insecurity". In fact, only two of the three are African countries: Mali and Liberia.
Words in This Story
conservation –n. the careful use of natural resources to prevent losing or wasting them
tenure –n. (legal) the right to use a property
inheritance –n. property that is passed from a person who dies to another person
sustainable –adj. involving methods that permit something to be continues for a long time
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