05/29/2008, 00.00
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Bill proposes to recognise polygamy

Some people, including some women, support proposal; for others it is “nonsense.” In Central Asia the practice is not uncommon and many men can get a young second wife by paying off her poor parents.

Astana (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A new draft law in Kazakhstan would legalise polygamy. In predominantly Muslim Central Asia the practice is widespread but additional wives and their children are often without rights.

Citing Islamic customs which allow men to have up to four wives if he can maintain them and get the consent of his current wife or wives, proponents of legalising polygamy say the new bill will help improve the demographic situation in the country.

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.

Similar proposals have been made in the recent past, by the League of Muslim Women of Kazakhstan for example. Its leader, Amina Abdukarim Qyzy, has said that polygamy “brings happiness to many men and women.”

In the southern part of the country, where Islamic traditions are strongest, many men have more than one wife.

Kazakhstan decriminalised polygamy in 1998, but in case of divorce or death of the husband additional wives and their children have no rights.

The proposal is not going well with everyone. Lawmaker Bahyt Syzdykova called the whole thing “nonsense”.

Speaking at a televised roundtable in Astana in early May, she said she would propose legalising polyandry—allowing women to marry more than one man—if parliament legalised polygamy out of respect for equal rights. In fact for her there is more need for a law giving greater rights to children born out of wedlock than any legalisation of polygamy.

A 2004 poll by the Express K daily suggested that some 40 per cent of Kazakh men supported legalising polygamy. In the same poll, more than 73 per cent of women said they wanted to be the only wife of their husband. Only 22 per cent 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.

The issue is also a topic of discussion in the other former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Here too a second or third wife is not uncommon, but here too she is without rights.

Many point out that in some areas rich men take on a young second or third wife by paying off her poor parents.

They believe that legalisation would provide these women with rights.

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