By Gulnoza Saidazimova, RFE/RL
Want a second wife? Then simply get your first
wife's consent and prove you can financially support another family. A new draft
law in Kazakhstan would allow any man who is able to meet those two requirements
to take a second, third, or even a fourth wife.
|In Tajikistan, men
can only have one wife by law, but the idea of legalizing polygamy was
raised following the country's 1992-97 civil war (file photo)
Proponents of legalizing polygamy say the new bill
will help improve the demographic situation in the country. They cite Islamic
customs, which allow Muslim men to marry up to four wives. And they say the new
bill would give more rights to the wives and children of polygamous husbands.
Tangribergan Berdyungarov, a Kazakh
parliamentarian, says the legislature is likely to hold a session soon to
consider the issue.
"The proposed bill is named 'On Marriage and
Family.' There have been unofficial talks to legalize polygamy in Kazakhstan,"
he said. "I believe every deputy has his or her own opinion on the matter, and
it will be reflected in the voting."
If Polygamy, Then Polyandry
Berdyungarov tells RFE/RL that he opposes the new
bill. He has many supporters in parliament -- mostly women like deputy Bahyt
Syzdykova, who calls the issue "nonsense."
Speaking at a televised roundtable in Astana on
May 7, Syzdykova said she would propose legalizing polyandry -- allowing women
to marry more than one man -- if parliament legalizes polygamy. "After all, men
and women in our country have equal rights according to our constitution," she
said. Syzdykova added that there is more need for a law giving greater rights to
children born out of wedlock than any legalization of polygamy.
A woman from the city of Almaty voiced a similar
opinion. "Many women have become the second or third wives, but neither they nor
their children have rights," she said. "I don't want to see the word 'polygamy'
[in the new law], but I would like to see that men have obligations and are held
responsible for all their relationships and the children born outside [official]
Polygamy has been practiced in Central Asian
Muslim societies for centuries. Even during the Soviet era, some men took more
than one wife, although only the first marriage was considered legal.
Kazakhstan decriminalized polygamy in 1998, but
it remains a crime in the four other Central Asian countries. A man can face up
to two years in jail for having more than one wife, but the practice is rarely
The Kazakh parliament has held debates on
legalizing it several times in the last decade. The first initiative came from
the League of Muslim Women of Kazakhstan. Amina Abdukarim Qyzy, the
organization's leader, has said that polygamy would increase the country's
population and "bring happiness to many men and women."
A 2004 poll by the "Express K" daily suggested
that some 40 percent of Kazakh men supported legalizing polygamy. In the same
poll, more than 73 percent of women said they wanted to be the only wife of
their husband. Only 22 percent of women said they would not oppose living in a
polygamous marriage, but only if wives lived in separate apartments and were
equally and adequately provided for by a husband.
Murat Kulimbet, deputy editor in chief of
"Kazakhstan Eylderi" magazine, supports legalizing polygamy. He says up to 30
percent of men in the country's south, where Islamic traditions have always been
stronger, have more than one wife.
Polygamy has become more popular in Central Asia
as people have returned to Islamic traditions following the collapse of the
Through nikah, or Islamic marriage, a Muslim man
can take up to four wives with the consent of his current wives and if he is
financially able to provide equally and fairly for new wives and children. Nikah,
however, has no legal force in the region's secular states. Therefore, in the
case of divorce or the death of a husband, the second and third wives of the man
and their children have no rights.
In recent years, Muslim-dominated societies from
Azerbaijan to Russia's Bashkortostan to Central Asia have seen attempts to
legalize polygamy, but parliaments have always rejected them.
Benefits Of Legalization
In Kazakhstan and Russia, polygamy proponents say
it would help raise sagging birth rates and stave off demographic crisis. In
other countries, such as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where thousands of men go
abroad in search of work amid high unemployment at home, some people say the
wives and children of those men who do not return would benefit from the
legalization of polygamy.
In Tajikistan, the idea was raised after the
bloody 1992-97 civil war, when the number of men decreased significantly. A
group of Tajik women -- mostly the wives of polygamous husbands -- wrote a
letter to the country's parliament, asking for their status to be legitimized.
Most observers see a direct correlation between
polygamy and economic welfare. Many women agree to become the second or third
wives of relatively wealthy men, as they are not financially able to provide for
themselves. There is also reportedly an increasing number of cases where men
take young girls as their second or third wife from parents who can barely make
ends meet. The parents often give their daughters away for a financial reward.
"There may be a need for [polygamy] only among
the rich in Uzbekistan," said an Uzbek man working in Kazakhstan. "Nowadays,
most families can hardly make ends meet, and millions of Uzbeks work in Russia
and Kazakhstan. I don't think [legalizing polygamy] is an urgent issue in
Uzbekistan. Well, not from men's point of view."
Copyright (c) 2008 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
... Payvand News - 05/29/08 ... --