Although polygamy remains illegal in Tajikistan, the practice is now so common in this Muslim-majority society that no one bats an eyelid any more.
A recent survey by an NGO in the southern city of Qurghon-Teppa polled both polygamous husbands and the wives in such marriages, and found that the latter suffered a range of disadvantages including abuse and wrongful deprivation of legal rights.
The study comprised 250 of each sex and covered large enough parts of the south, east and north of the country to be representative of the overall picture.
For women, the deciding factor in agreeing to become someone’s second or third wife is often economic – they have no other way of sustaining themselves.
They are married only by the Muslim rite, as is increasingly the case even with “first” wives. Since their marriage is not registered with the state or recognised in law, they have few entitlements or protections – and often lack any awareness of the rights they and they children do have.
Tajikistan suffers from a lack of men. The imbalance created by mainly male deaths in the 1992-97 civil war persists, and these days, younger men are absent for long periods, working as migrant labour in Russia and other countries.
Some men marry a second time if their first wife has not given them a male heir. For others, the ability to maintain two households is a mark of status.
Orzujon Bedimogov is an IWPR-trained radio reporter in Tajikistan.
The audio programme, in Russian, went out on national radio stations in Tajikistan, as part of IWPR project work funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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