Uzbek Officials Fall Foul of Polygamy Ban

Uzbek Officials Fall Foul of Polygamy Ban

Although the law in Uzbekistan prohibits polygamy, the practice remains common, as shown by the recent dismissal of a senior police officer in the Syr Darya region. 

On July 30, the Central Asian news site Ca-news reported that Lieutenant-Colonel Rahim Khudoiberdiev, the police chief in the town of Gulistan, had been removed from his post after his first wife reported him for polygamy. 

Polygamy is banned under Uzbekistan and offenders can be punished with fines, community work or up to three years in prison. 

In practice, marriages contracted after the first, legal one take place according to the Muslim rite without the corresponding state ceremony, so they are not recognised in law.

“Polygamy is not a rare phenomenon,” Abdurahmon Tashanov of the Ezgulik human rights group said. 

Another commentator, who did not want to be named, added, “The highest numbers of polygamists are among law-enforcement officers and state officials. Polygamy is… a way of showing off their wealth and ambition. Society, the mahalla [neighbourhood community] and the clergy do not condemn such marriages.” 

Some women see a polygamous marriage as the best option available to them. Shahlo, a 32-year-old from Tashkent, says it is better to be a second wife than to be single. She says fear of being left on their own prompts some women to become second or third wives. 

“Society is biased against single women,” Shahlo said. “They may suspected of a multitude of sins, the worst being prostitution.” 

Uzbek men interviewed for this report said they did not see polygamy as a crime. 

“It isn’t my fault I am able to support three wives financially,” said one man, Karim. “In a situation where society condemns single women, a man can perform a socially valid function. I am saving the reputation of another two women.” 

Rovshan Nazarov, an analyst in Tashkent, thinks polygamy occurs for a range of social and economic factors, such as mass emigration of the male population to work abroad, and the growing divorce rate. 

“This creates a significant number of unmarried women, many of whom become second wives,” he said. 

Although many find justifications for polygamy, it is common for the men involved to lead double lives for years. 

“My husband has always tried to conceal it from his first wife”, said a woman from the eastern town of Fergana who has been a second wife for 15 years. “His parents only found out when our daughter turned 13.” 

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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