ITALY: POLYGAMY GROWING WITH MUSLIM IMMIGRATION
Excerpt from the LATIMES: ROME -- A few miles from the Vatican, Najat Hadi kept house with her husband, his other wife and their assorted children, an unhappy home with a hateful woman 10 years her junior and a cruel spouse who left her with a jagged scar peeking from her collar.
Finally, she says, her Egyptian-born husband, who worked in Rome making pizzas, beat her so badly that she left him. But he kept her children."
But "Italian authorities largely turn a blind eye, leaving women in a murky semi-clandestine world with few rights and no recourse when things go especially badly, as they did in Hadi's case.
"It is absurd that in a civilized country like Italy, so little is acknowledged about this," said Souad Sbai, a Moroccan-born Italian lawmaker who has emerged as a one-woman champion of female Muslim immigrants here.
Italy is one of several European nations faced with the issue of polygamy. In Britain and Spain, where large Muslim communities have also settled, some officials favor recognizing polygamous marriage as a way to ensure the wives' access to pensions, medical care and other state benefits.
But Sbai, who has lived 27 of her 47 years in Italy, thinks that misguided attempts at cultural sensitivity backfire when customs that stray into illegality are tolerated. Italian law sanctions marriage between a single man and a single woman only.
Sbai estimates that there are 14,000 polygamous families in Italy; others put the number even higher. Many take advantage of the so-called orfi marriage, a less formal union performed by an imam, that does not carry the same social or legal standing as regular marriage.
She is convinced that the polygamists in Italy are practicing a more fundamentalist and abusive form of multiple marriage. Because they feel so threatened by the Western culture around them, the men often imprison their wives and confine them to a life of solitude wholly dependent on the husband.
"They are kept in a kind of ghetto," Sbai said.
When Sbai recently created a hotline for Muslim immigrant women, she was inundated with 1,000 calls in the first three months. To her astonishment, she had tapped into a hidden community of women desperate for information, many trapped in violent, polygamous households, isolated and lonely.
"We are not at the point of integration yet," said the psychologist, Lucia Basile. After what they have been through, "we first need to teach them that they have dignity and that they exist."
"It's always the women," she said, "who pay the price."