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Uzbekistan Launches Latest Drive Against Polygamy

Economic and religious motivations alike are behind the rise in multiple marriages, observers say.

17 July 2017

Uzbekistan is stepping up its drive to abolish polygamy – officially – even as the practice appears to be common in the predominantly Muslim country of 32 million.


Mullahs and imams will face more severe penalties for allowing married men to take another wife in the nikah marriage rite, according to a blog by the BBC’s media monitoring service.


Two guests on a popular talk show defended the government crackdown on polygamy, setting off a flurry of comment on social media.


On the show, a Justice Ministry official, Dilbahor Yoqubova, dissed “illiterate mullahs” who perform unofficial marriage rituals. Dilfuza Rahmatullayeva, a professor, remarked that “religious freedom” led to the spread of polygamy.


Polygamous relationships have been illegal in Uzbekistan since Soviet times, but as one woman said on the BBC’s Uzbek Facebook page, “In lots of rural districts of the Tashkent area, these illiterate mullahs are inciting younger males to marry second wives. Since their marriages usually are not registered, they freely divorce and get married to a different one,” citing the authority of Sharia law.


President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has launched a campaign to curb the “undesirable consequences” of polygamy.


“To stop this lawlessness we are drawing up a draft bill,” Mirziyoyev said on 19 June. “Every mullah that performs the nikah rites without a witness or marriage registration documents will be punished.”


An Uzbek wedding. Image via Jose Javier Martin Espartosa/Flickr.


However, the BBC says, conservatives fear the law would lead to more divorces and prostitution.


Polygamy is also known among the several million Uzbeks who work abroad, mostly in Russia, who may marry a local woman and cut off ties to their families back home.


“I am certain that most Uzbek women would never give their consent for their husbands to begin a new family in Russia. But when they face such problems, they are forced either to support themselves and their children independently, or to turn to their parents for help,” Sahiba Hayitova, a journalist and blogger in Moscow, recently told


Marriage to a Russian woman can also simplify the process of getting permanent residence papers, Hayitova said.



  • Violators of the law against polygamy or cohabitation with two or more women can be given stiff fines or prison terms of up to three years. However, only two people have faced charges for the crime, EurasiaNet says.


  • The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for men and 17 for women in Uzbekistan. Based on data released by UNICEF in 2016, 7 percent of girls were married by 18, below the average of 8 percent in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan has the region’s highest proportion of women marrying underage, at 12 percent.


  • Sources indicate that some Uzbek couples do not register their marriage with the state. “In some cases, this is to get around the statutory minimum age for marriage, or because a man wants to take a second or third wife,” according to the OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index program.

Compiled by Crystal Tai

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