Page last updated at 11:57 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Politicians 'ignoring' polygamy

Baroness Warsi
Baroness Warsi says more needs to be done to prevent polygamy in the UK

Cultural sensitivity has prevented politicians from discussing the issue of polygamy, Muslim peer Baroness Warsi has told the BBC.

The shadow minister for community cohesion told Radio 4's Today programme the issue should be taken seriously.

She said she wanted registering all religious marriages to be considered to stop men marrying more than one wife.

The government denied the issue had been ignored and said its policy was to prevent polygamous households forming.

"There has been a failure on the part of policymakers to respond to this situation," Baroness Warsi said.

'Misunderstood'

"Some of it has been done in the name of cultural sensitivity and we've just avoided either discussing or dealing with this matter head on.

"There has to be a culture change and that has to brought about by policymakers taking a very clear stance on this issue, saying that in this country, one married man is allowed to marry one woman," she added.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

Manzoor Moghal, chairman of the Muslim Forum, said polygamy is "the most misunderstood subject in the West" with a lot of "invective" unfairly directed at it.

"Polygamy came in when Islam came on the scene, before that Judaism and Christianity allowed unbridled polygamy to continue," he told the BBC.

"They never addressed the subject, with the result that only the first wife had all the rights... so Islam brought regulation into this one and all the wives are to be treated equitably.

"Why would you not allow Muslims to conduct their affairs in their cultural, religious framework, without interference from the state?

"Why should we take them to task for having a second, third and a fourth nikah [marriage] which is compatible with their religion?"

Professor Haleh Afshar, of The University of York, said it is a "sad reality" that polygamy is increasing in Britain because there is no requirement by the state to register every marriage.

It is not the role of government to take a position on the rites, beliefs or practices of any particular religious faith
Ministry of Justice

She said: "Sadly it is increasing on the part of British-born men who... sometimes marry British-born girls, but more often... someone in the sub-continent then go back and abandon wife number one and take wife number two."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson denied that the issue had been ignored and said polygamous marriages are illegal in the UK.

"It is government policy to prevent the formation of polygamous households in the United Kingdom," the spokesperson said.

"Polygamous marriages that have been contracted in overseas countries are legally recognised, although immigration rules prevent a man from bringing more than one wife to settle with him in the UK.

"It is not the role of government to take a position on the rites, beliefs or practices of any particular religious faith, other than where these give rise to conflict with the common law."

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