UK legally recognises multiple Islamic wives

Gov't recognises Muslim polygamous marriages conducted abroad, allows welfare benefits.

Polygamous marriages conducted by Muslims outside the UK are reported to have been given legal recognition by the British government, even allowing husbands who bring more than one wife to the country to claim welfare benefits.

The government in December last year concluded a year-long review that found recognition of polygamous marriages conducted overseas as "the best possible" option, the UK's Daily Telegraph newspaper reported. The decision has not been publicly announced.

Islamic law permits men to have up to four wives at any one time provided the husband spends equal amounts of time and money on each of them. In Britain, bigamous marriages conducted in the UK are punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Four governmental departments - the Treasury, Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenues and Customs and the Home Office - were involved in the review, launched by ministers in November 2006 after it had emerged that some families benefited financially from the arrangement.

Though Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE permit polygamy, a UN committee on women's rights on February 1 called on the Saudi government to end the marital institution saying it "runs counter to the principle of equality between the sexes", newswire AP reported.

In the UK, the review also concluded that extra welfare benefits can continued to be paid to those already in polygamous marriages, of which ministers estimate a thousand partnerships exist in the country.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has issued new guidelines for income support which state: "Where there is a valid polygamous marriage the claimant and one spouse will be paid the couple rate... The amount payable for each additional spouse is presently 33.65 pounds ($66.41)."

If the family agrees, income support for all of the wives may be paid directly into the husband's bank account. A husband with many wives may also be eligible for additional housing benefit and council tax benefit under the deal agreed by ministers, in order to reflect the larger property needed for his family.

The decision has been condemned by opposition political party the Conservatives, who accused the British government of favouring a particular group and also of setting a precedent that would lead to demands for further changes in British law.

A DWP spokesperson told the Telegraph that the number of people in polygamous marriages entering Britain had declined since the 1988 Immigration Act, which "generally prevents a man from bringing a second or subsequent wife with him to this country if another woman is already living as his wife in the UK".

While a married man is not allowed to obtain a spouse visa to bring a second wife into Britain, some multiple partners can enter the country via other legal routes such as tourist visas, student visas or work permits.

In addition, officials have identified a potential loophole by which a man can divorce his wife under British law while continuing to live with her as his wife under Islamic law, and obtain a spouse visa for a foreign woman who he can legally marry.

"Entry clearance may not be withheld from a second wife where the husband has divorced his previous wife and the divorce is thought to be one of convenience," an immigration rulebook advises. "This is so, even if the husband is still living with the previous wife and to issue the entry clearance would lead to the formation of a polygamous household."

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Posted by: whatnow

Shouldn't there be a time limit on comments for articles e.g. 6 months max?

Posted by: James

We will end up with the law of unitended consequencies.

If a man can't support many wives then he would not marry them.

However if the UK takes over this role and is then the supporter of many wives. The would be , supplying them with large houses and social welfare. The result may encourage people to move to the UK for an easier subsidised life to the detriment of UK nationals requiring help.

I am all for helping the needy but charity should begin at home.

Posted by: len behan

yes but surely the legal requirement of a man is that he can support the wives that he has taken on. so where is it that getting housing and social security supporting them. this comes out of the uk. citizens funds which should go towards helping. homeless and other good causes.

Posted by: Albert Rogers

I do not know why a man needs more than one wife, if he chooses the first wisely. But if a polygamous marriage is in fact exclusive, it should at least permit lovemaking between the wives also. It will still mean that there are young men excluded from having full sexual relationships.

But if a man is permitted to have more money than he can possibly spend, why not more wives than he can bossibly ..ah .. spend time with?

Posted by: Joseph

I agree totally with you tunisian girl.If the first wife knows who her husband is with , then its surely better than her being in the dark and him sneeking away and keeping second or subsequent wife.

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