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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 December 2005, 12:50 GMT
Row over Malaysian family laws
By Jonathan Kent
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur

Muslims at prayer in a Kuala Lumpur mosque
The law would make it easier for Muslims to take more than one wife
Malaysia's government has quelled a rebellion among lawmakers who wanted to stop new legislation they said could undermine women's rights.

An Islamic family law, making it easier for men to have polygamous marriages and take more of wives' property, is expected to be passed in the Senate.

Women senators from the governing coalition, who hoped to oppose the bill, have been ordered to support it.

The law has angered women's rights campaigners on several counts.

It makes it easier for a man to take multiple wives and to divorce. It allows a husband to claim a share of an existing wife's property if he takes further wives.

And it curtails a wife's rights to maintenance and to dispose of her own property.

Lawmakers in Malaysia's male-dominated lower chamber passed the bill after two days' debate that centred on men's rights to polygamy rather than scrutiny of the bill itself.

But it has prompted a rebellion in the senate, where Malaysia's parliament minister, Nazri Aziz, said the cabinet instructed the rebels, most of whom are women, to toe the line.

They are free to debate and speak their mind, but when it comes to a vote they have to follow, he said.

Islam is very strict about the circumstances under which a man can take more than one wife.

He must, for instance, be able to treat all his wives justly. However the new rules would mean a Malaysian Muslim man would no longer have to prove he could behave fairly to all his spouses before marrying.

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