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More than 115 million widows living in poverty

There are at least 245 million women around the world who have been widowed and more than 115 million of them or forced to live in devastating poverty, according to a new report.Two million Afghan widows face the most hardship, it said, along with at least 740,000 Iraqi widows who lost their husbands in the ongoing conflicts. In Africa, widows and their children are evicted from their family homes, and elderly widows are often the only ones left to caring for grandchildren orphaned by HIV/Aids crisis. There are also child widows aged between seven and 17 in developing countries.

The Invisible Forgotten Sufferers: The Plight of Widows around the World, report was launched on Tuesday by Cherie Blair, wife of the former prime minister, in New York."Across the world, widows suffer dreadful discrimination and abuse," Mrs Blair said. "In too many cases they're pushed to the very margins of society, trapped in poverty and left vulnerable to abuse and exploitation." She told how many widows are cheated out of their husbands' legacies and property and made to leave their family home — and because they have no money they can't support their children, "so misery is heaped on grief."

The report was carried out for the Loomba Foundation which works o help widows and educates their children in 12 countries. Mrs Blair, president of the foundation said: "The plight of widows — in the shadows of the world — is a human rights catastrophe. It's really a hidden humanitarian crisis."

The countries with the most widows in 2010 were, according to the report, China with 43 million, India with 42.4 million, the United States with 13.6 million, Indonesia with 9.4 million, Japan with 7.4 million, Russia with 7.1 million, Brazil with 5.6 million, Germany with 5.1 million, and Bangladesh and Vietnam with about 4.7 million each. Mrs Blair said that women are widowed when their husbands are killed in war, die of diseases including HIV/Aids, or are killed because they work in dangerous conditions which are often the only job options for poor men. She said that when their husbands die, some women are wrongly accused of murder or witchcraft, or forced to marry another member of the family, many lose their husband’s money and property and get forced out of their homes and many are raped.

Children suffer also when widows suffer, the report said, highlighting that more than 500 million children of widows are trapped in an underworld of disease, forced labour, homelessness and violence, denied schooling, or preyed upon by human traffickers.

Hayley attribution