THE ASSAULT ON TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE--BY MUSLIMS IN EUROPE
Rome, 2 April (AKI) - Polygamous marriages are illegal in Italy yet are reportedly on the rise. While few Muslim immigrants or Italian converts to Islam admit such unions, Muslim scholars put the number nationwide at 15,000-20,000, La Repubblica daily reports.
"There is no doubt that the phenomenon exists, and that the number of polygamous unions growing as the number of Muslim immigrants to Italy increases," the paper said, adding that there are also cases of polygamous Italian converts to Islam.
No official statistics have been gathered on polygamous marriages in Italy, and estimates vary wildly from hundreds to tens of thousands, according to the paper.
The Catholic charity Caritas estimates there are just over 1.2 million Muslim immigrants in Italy, approximately one-third of a total of over 3.6 million immigrants.
The Italian state does not issue family welfare cheques to more than one wife per husband, unlike in Britain, where the government has since February been issuing family welfare cheques to all of a polygamist's wives resident in the country.
Belgium and Germany also offer benefits to polygamists' various wives, according to La Repubblica.
But a lack of family welfare assistance does not appear to be deterring Muslim polygamists from bringing more than one of their wives to Italy with them, La Repubblica reported.
"Many of my friends have more than one wife here. It is not just Senegalese people. Moroccans and Egyptians are doing it to," said Baba Kar, quoted by La Repubblica.
La Repubblica said Kar first arrived in Italy nine years ago from Senegal without any of his wives. He then brought over his first wife, Fadu, with their three-year-old son.
Once Kar had a work permit, he brought his second wife, Nkeir, to live with him, Fadu and their son in a two-roomed 60 square metre flat in the northern city of Brescia, the paper said.
Fadu admitted to being jealous at first when Nkeir joined her and Kar. "But then I got over it. This is how things are for us Senegalese," she said, quoted by La Repubblica.
"The Koran says I can have up to four wives. I observe my religion, and I have never had any problems with the Italian state," said Kar.
Although poligamy is illegal in Italy, only Kar's first marriage to Fadu is registered. A court in the northern Italian city of Bologna allowed a Muslim immigrant to bring the mothers of his two children - his first and second wife respectively - to join them in Italy.
The Bologna court justified its ruling by arguing that the two marriages had been contracted in a country where poligamy is legal.
The ruling proved controversial in Italy. Opponents argued that in the name of cultural pluralism, the judiciary was sanctioning a practice that women in Muslim countries have been fighting against for years.
Polygamy is already outlawed in Tunisia and Turkey, and has been almost eradicated from Morocco's new body of family law. It is also strictly regulated in many Arab countries, and economic factors have also curbed polygamous marriages in Muslim countries.
Opinions in Italy are divided over the practice, however. "It's a statistically irrelevant phenomenon that affects very few families, within which the presence of more than one wife doesn't create problems," said sociologist Stefano Allievi.
"This is because it is normal in these people's culture, or because Italian women converts accept it," he said.
But Italy's Moroccan Women's Association president and parliamentary candidate for the centre-right People of Freedom Alliance, Souad Sbai, begged to differ.
"There are thousands of cases of poligamy and in most instances, women suffer abuse. Husbands beat wives who don't want to accept another wife, " said Sbai.
"After a few years, polygamists sometimes abandon their second wives, who then find they are not entitled to benefits and have no rights - they cannot file for divorce, because in the eyes of the state, they were never married," she added.
Some polygamous marriages are contracted in the consulates of immigrants' home countries. No official is present, just an imam prepared to turn a blind eye to Italian law, Sbai said.