Polygamy opposed in Malaysia study
Malaysian children and first wives in polygamous families overwhelmingly oppose the practice because the men seem too stretched to devote enough time and money to them, according to the country's largest study on the effects of polygamy.
Though sanctioned by Islam, polygamy is a controversial issue for Malaysia's Muslims, who make up nearly two-thirds of the country's 28 million people. Statements made by about 1,600 members of polygamous households to university researchers appear to bolster claims by women's rights activists, who have long said the practice undermines the well-being of wives and children.
"We do not oppose polygamy, but we believe that monogamy is preferable," Adibah Jodi, a representative of Sisters in Islam, a Malaysian women's advocacy group, said.
There are no official Malaysian statistics on the number of polygamous marriages, but activists estimate they account for about 5% of all new marriages every year, including ones not legally registered.
Sisters in Islam worked with researchers from Malaysian universities to conduct face-to-face interviews with polygamous families between August 2008 and April 2010. Their data are only preliminary, and since the number of polygamous marriages is unknown, they do not represent a scientific sample.
At least 90% of 523 children interviewed insisted they would not start polygamous households when they grew up, according to the survey. Nearly 70 percent of 259 women whose husbands took a second wife would not recommend polygamy and said their husbands were now unable to meet their needs fairly.
Many wives felt betrayed when their husbands married another spouse - 65% of those interviewed were not consulted first. They also reported feeling ashamed and isolated themselves from their friends.
Sisters in Islam said they supported the survey after receiving a growing number of complaints from women who said they had suffered in polygamous marriages.
But the practice also has supporters in Malaysia, where last year a club was started by about 1,000 people who insist the marriages deter adultery and improve the marriage prospects of single mothers and reformed prostitutes.
Islam allows a man to take up to four wives but also warns men not to neglect any of them. Sisters in Islam and other women's groups have grown outspoken in recent years, saying Islamic courts sometimes permit men to take a second wife too easily before determining if they can cope. Polygamy is illegal for non-Muslim minorities.