Papua New Guinea: New Law Prohibits Polygamy
Thursday, September 4, 2014 10:20 PM

The Pacific island country of Papua New Guinea recently passed new legislation banning the practice of polygamy. Polygamy occurs in as many as 25% of marriages in the rural highlands of the country, where most of the population lives. Prior to the adoption of the new law, customary and polygamous marriages were not recorded by the state. Now, all marriages must be registered with the government, and polygamous marriages will not be allowed.

Local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international experts say the law will help combat Papua New Guinea’s “high rates of domestic violence, gender inequality, and the spread of AIDS.” At least 75% of women and girls in Papua New Guinea have experienced domestic or gender-based violence, including “the abuse and neglect of wives” when men practice polygamy.

According to the Women and Children’s Access to Community Justice Programme in Goroka, “[i]f polygamy remained acceptable, wives would never speak for their rights and they and their children would continue to be silent victims of violence.” Advocates and experts highlight the changing nature of polygamous relationships and traditions in New Guinea associated with modernization and a cash economy. They say these changes make it more likley that multiple marriages will fail and become abusive.

The government also hopes the law will help combat trafficking in children for labor and commercial sex by increasing the number of children formally identified by the state. Ninety percent of the people in Papua New Guinea do not have birth certificates.

Compiled from: Wilson, Catherine, Outlawing Polygamy to Combat Gender Inequalities, Domestic Violence in Papua New Guinea, Inter Press Service (July 28, 2014).