Uzbekistan: Polygamy in Central Asia

Women's Resource Centre Tashkent
In Soviet times, polygamy was prohibited by law. What has happened in the years of independence in the former Central Asian republics of the USSR?
Nataliya Bushueva says, “Polygamist marriages in Uzbekistan are prohibited by law."
Nonetheless, it has become a widespread phenomenon. As a worker of WRC, Barno Valieva, claims the cause of many cases is in women themselves. They believe that it is better to be a second wife that a lonely woman. Barno Valieva says that polygamy is especially high in provinces in Uzbekistan.

“He did not call me a second wife. He just called me wife.” The woman that wished to remain incognito has been in marriage concluded on the basis of the religious rite “Nikoh” for 10 years. This marriage has no legal force. To conclude this rite it is enough to have two witnesses.

“I was perfectly aware that he was hiding it from me. He concealed this fact for a long time. Only when our daughter was five, his parents learnt about my existence.”

As this woman said, she took this plunge because she did not to be lonely. Before this marriage she had already had a child. A single woman with a child is condemned by our society. However, she believes, there is little good in such marriages. The [behaviour] of her husband was unbearable. “He used to live with us for months; but later he forgot us for months.”

Formally, a mullah has no right to perform the religious rite “Nikoh”, if a man and a woman are in official marriage already. But this rule is always violated.

Polygamy is subject to criminal penalty. The law envisages either a fee reaching 50 to 100 minimal salaries, or an improvement labor and imprisonment up to 3 years – everything depends on a specific case.

To prove a polygamous marriage is very difficult. the law states that this marriage can be considered such if a man and a woman have a common household. If he cohabits with her without having a common household, this living together cannot be considered a marriage, because in this case it is no crime.

How do the Uzbek residents treat polygamy? The members of Uzbek Resource Center polled 100 women, their age ranging from 18 to 60 of this number, 20 were for polygamy and 78 were against.

As Uzbekistani researchers write, the number of polygamists is constantly increasing in Uzbekistan. However, there is no statistic that could help to judge about the scale of polygamy. However, experts state that this form of marriage has never been popular in Uzbekistan. Rather, it was a whim of the well-off stratum of population. As to the present-day situation, there is even a separate category of women, who poll for conclusion of such marriages. But these women are more likely to be moved by a desire for material well-being.”

Polygamy also takes place in Turkmenistan, but the situation there is significantly different from that in Uzbekistan. More detail is in a report prepared by Viktoria Rodionova:

“Turkmenistan is the only state in the post-Soviet state, where polygamy is officially permitted. A man can have up to four wives. However, to conclude a second, third and fourth marriages a man has to submit all kinds of certificates and documents proving his financial solvency. This man is obliged to provide an adequate living for all his wives and children. If the local administration is satisfied by the presented proof, it issues permission for marriage.

It is possible to state that for Turkmenistan the so-called bigamy is traditional. It is known that in Turkmen society marriage between a young man and a girl is usually concluded on the agreement of their parents. Few dare go against the will of their parents. Therefore, it happens that a man has one wife that he “was married” to and the second wife that he selected himself. Such a situation is normal for the present-day Turkmenistan: a man lives for two families. In both of them his children grow, who, as a rule, communicate with each other, go to one and the same school and have one and the same family name.”

Solto Temir gives more detail about the situation with polygamy, “As sociologists note, bigamy was widespread in pre-revolutionary Kyrgyzstan. However, in the modern society this phenomenon is quite frequent. A large number of cases are known when men have second wives without divorcing from the first one. In the case, the marriage is not registered in the Registrar’s office, but is concluded in the mosque. In these cases has two wives living with them in turns, by the agreement of the sides. It is noteworthy that the question of the polygamy is repeatedly raised by male deputies. During the last debate in the parliament devoted to giving polygamy the official status, only four votes were lacking to pass the law."