Polygamy is widespread within Britain’s Muslim community and women are being denied basic rights by being trapped in marriages that are not recognized under British law, according to a new study.
The study – presented to the House of Lords by the women’s rights campaigner and peer Baroness Cox – found that in some cases the women, often born in countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh and brought to the UK for arranged marriages were unaware about their status in Britain for years.
The results of the study are based on interviews with 50 women from the West Midlands.
The women were interviewed by the Muslim women’s rights group ‘Aurat’.
A staggering two thirds of the women interviewed said they were aware that their husband had more than one wife and some had as many as four.
One woman was quoted as saying that she only found out that her husband had three additional wives only after their marriage whilst another said that an attempt to divorce her husband failed because she was not legally married in the first place.
The study also found that whilst nine out of ten of the women said they were married, just one in ten were in marriages recognized under English law that is to have formalized the marriage through a civil wedding or a ceremony in a mosque registered for the purpose.
Many of the others had undergone a ‘Nikah’ ceremony at home, often not knowing that such ceremonies don’t carry any legal weight.
Baroness Cox said that whilst the number of women questioned for the study may not be representative of the community it clearly showed that the practice of polygamy was “widespread”.
“The implications for the women are very serious and it violates the fundamental principles of our country that bigamy is illegal and yet polygamy is condoned and allowed to flourish. It is just continuing without any comment or expression of concern but for the women it causes concern and they are suffering”, the peer said.
Baroness Cox added that often women from British Muslim communities found it difficult to speak out because they were “very closed communities”.