Growing trend in Uzbekistan: More money means more wives

A bride in Uzbekistan ©
The increase in polygamy in Uzbekistan is the result of the growing popularity of Islamic traditions and a widening wealth gap.

Even though the law officially forbids polygamy, since the 1990s increasing numbers of men have managed to have a second wife.

“His wife was against … one more wife”

Dilfuza, a successful and modern woman, works at a bank in Tashkent. Some people respect her, others envy her, but no one suspects that behind her veneer she is hiding a personal drama.

“I met my future husband at work. He courted me lavishly. After we got to know each other he asked me to become his second wife,” says Dilfuza.

Dilfuza was at first insulted by the suggestion, but her suitor was patient and persistent. His wife, he said was ill and did not object.

Dilfuza did not believe her suitor and insisted on meeting his wife.

“How could a woman agree to that? It was not clear to me. I am a woman myself. But in the end I met her and found out that indeed she was not against it,” says Dilfuza.

They were married by a mullah in accordance to Muslim tradition, but did not register their marriage at the government registry office. They had a modest wedding celebration, and have lived together for seven years.

“I did not have any hidden financial objectives,” says Dilfuza. “I have had a good job all this time. ”

Up to three years imprisonment for polygamy

Dilfuza – the second wife ©
Most lawyers have an unambiguous opinion on the subject: Polygamy is forbidden by the law and is thus a crime.

Article 126 of the Uzbek Constitution defines polygamy as co-habitation with two or more women within a shared household. It is punishable by a fine of 50-100 minimum monthly wages, and prison or correctional work for up to three years.

Omina Karimova is a family practice lawyer. She believes that polygamy is a tragedy that is not justified by its ancient roots.

“The second marriage is simply an extramarital affair. The parties conduct a nikah, a Muslim marriage. Often times the first wife does not even know,” says the lawyer. “What woman really wants a second wife for her husband? I believe polygamy to be a tragedy.”

Journalist and writer Marfua Tohtahojaeva studies women's rights in Uzbekistan, and believes that both men and women are responsible for the practice of polygamy making a comeback in the country.

She believes that many women only want to settle down with well-off men. And those men who make good money are not against asserting themselves by having more than wife.

“The law forbids polygamy. It says that one household cannot have a second wife. But this can be interpreted to mean that if a man establishes a second household than it is acceptable,” says Tohtahojaeva.

Better to be a second wife than be a single woman?

Lawyer Omina Karimova ©
People do not like talking about polygamy in Uzbekistan, many choosing instead to pretend that it does not exist. And it often seems that the country’s patriarchal society is more tolerant towards second wives than single or divorced women.

There is no official statistics in the country regarding polygamy and to date only two men have stood trial for it.

In 2012, Yakub Normurodov, head of Surkhandaryo’s Muzrabadskiy district school board, received a court sentence for polygamy. Early, in June 2010, Lt. Col. Rahim Hudojberdiev, head of city of Gulistan Internal Affairs Department, was also sentenced for the same crime.