Polygamy: A Stubbornly Persistent Practice

PARIS: The practice of polygamy, or being married to several people, is prohibited in most countries, but still tolerated and even legal in dozens of countries.
The UN Commission on Human Rights and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women have called for its ban.
Polygamy is primarily, but not exclusively, a man’s world.
In addition to polygyny, where a man marries multiple wives, there is the rarer polyandry, where women have multiple husbands.
There is even sororal polygyny, where a man bonds with several sisters, and fraternal polyandry, where the woman marries several brothers, as is an ancestral tradition in Nepal.
Only 2% of the world’s population live in polygamous families, and in most countries the proportion is less than 0.5%, according to a 2019 study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center covering 130 countries and territories. .
Polygamy is prohibited in most countries of the world, including Europe. But it’s legal in parts of the Middle East and Asia, though not common.
It is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, with 11% of the population living in polygamous households, according to Pew, with West and Central African countries dominating.
Burkina Faso has the highest proportion (36 percent), compared to 34 percent in Mali, 30 percent in The Gambia and 29 percent in Niger.
Nigeria and Guinea have significant polygamous minorities (28% and 26% respectively), although both countries have banned the practice.
Other countries where polygamy remains widespread are Guinea-Bissau (23%), Senegal (23%) and Togo (17%).
More common among Muslims than among Christians in Africa, polygamy is also widespread among followers of popular religions.
In Nigeria, it is federally banned but still practiced in 12 northern states that apply Sharia or Islamic law.
Most West African countries allow men to marry up to four wives under certain conditions, including having the means to support multiple wives and families, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development based in Paris.
In practice, however, most men in polygamous relationships have two wives.
Former South African President Jacob Zuma, a Zulu traditionalist, has four wives and at least 20 children.
The king of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), Mswati III, married 15 wives, one of whom died. He has over 25 children.
Islam allows men to have up to four wives, provided they are all treated equally.
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest Sunni institution, based in Cairo, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, however, criticized the practice as “an injustice against women and children” resulting “from a misunderstanding of the Quran and the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad)”.
Polygamy has historically been encouraged in times of war, as a means of providing financial support to widows and orphans.
The practice is nonetheless limited in most Muslim countries, with Tunisia being the first Arab country to ban polygamy in 1956.
Although the Jewish Torah and the Christian Old Testament cite several instances of multiple marriages, polygamy was rejected by both religions in the Middle Ages.
In the United States, tens of thousands of fundamentalist Mormon Christians still practice polygamy.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the official name for Mormons in Utah, banned polygamy in 1890.
Its founder Joseph Smith himself had between 30 and 40 wives, one of whom was just 14, the church revealed in 2014.

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