Kyrgyzstan: Rise in Polygamy Has a Devastating Impact on Women

23 March 2010

In Kyrgyzstan, a rise in the practice of polygamy has taken a toll on women, leaving them feeling betrayed and robbed of protections of civil marriage. Nikah, or Islamic marriage, has grown more commonplace in Central Asia. Nikah ceremonies allow Muslim men to marry up to four wives, but consent must be obtained from the existing wives and the husband must prove that he is financially capable of providing equally for all his wives and children. Nikah, however, has no legal weight in Kyrgyzstan, whose secular laws prohibit polygamy, and thus divorce or the husband’s death oftentimes leaves the women and children with no safety nets.

Bubusara Ryskulova Director of Sezim, a women’s crisis center in Bishkek offering psychological counseling, judicial consultation, and temporary shelter, notes that the rise in polygamy has resulted in psychological problems among women. The number of women seeking urgent help has risen by 40 percent in the past year. More than half of the 8000 women in total are victims of polygamy, unregistered nikah marriages, and forced marriages.

While many men justify multiple marriages using their religious beliefs, a leading Muslim cleric in Kyrgyzstan, Mullah Abdyshukur Narmatov, explains that Islam does not require a man to marry a second or third wife. "In Islam, there is no obligation to have two, three, or four wives. A Muslim man can bring home another woman only if there is a serious reason -- like if his wife is sick, or infertile, or something like this," Narmatov says. (Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty)

Ryskulova and Mullah Abdyshukur both point to the lack of education that causes mullahs to bless most nikah weddings without taking into account the negative effects they might have on the women and their families. "Faith is a very good thing," says Ryskulova. "It's unfortunate that women are being negatively affected because of it, due to the fact that our mullahs are poorly educated." (Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty)

Compiled from: Venera Djumataeva, “In Kyrgyzstan, Polygamy’s Rise Takes Its Toll,” Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (8 March 2010).