University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Polygamy Its Negative Implications and Consequences
Polygamy: Its Negative Implications and Consequences
The affinity for human beings to live in pairs is entirely natural. A blissful marriage is characterized by love, respect, and trust. Warmth becomes the motivational drive towards the perfection of life in the present world and thereafter (McMahon, 2010). On the contrary, an unhappy marriage leads to despair and disillusionment and negatively affects the people involved. Defined as the practice or condition of marrying more than one wife at the same time, polygamy has persisted in many cultures world over. In most societies such as Islam, the practice is very much prevalent (Ward, 2010).
The sacred books and scriptures contain abundant evidence of the fact that polygamy was indeed practiced by patriarchal prophets Hindus and Jews. In Arabia and the countries adjoining, polygamy, temporary marriages, unrestricted concubinage, and marriages of convenience were highly rife (Jencks and Milton, 2010). Their effects were reported to be disastrous on the entire social and moral structure. Polygamy remains a common, well-buried secret that is often problematic and still exists throughout many countries to date. It is a more common practice than most people actually realize (Jacobson and Burton, 2011). Thesis Statement: Polygamy has been tried many times in free democratic countries, and it never succeeds. It is not compatible with freedom, equality, and human rights. It always results in child brides and brainwashing.
Types of polygamy
Polygamy as earlier defined is a form of marriage where a person has more than one wife. It generally occurs in two types. The most common is polygyny, where a man marries more than one wife. The less common type, polyandry, is a system of marriage where a woman marries more than one man (Darger, 2011). In the Islamic culture, the practice of polygyny is highly condoned while polyandry is highly condemned. In ancient times, polygamy existed in the Judaism culture. In the Old Testament of the Bible, Abraham had three wives and Solomon had more than three hundred wives. This practice continued until Rabbi Gershom ben Yehudah issued a decree against it. The Jewish Sephardic communities living in Muslim countries continued the practice until late 1950’s when a ban was extended against marrying more than one wife (Bennion, 2012). In any of these forms, polygamy should be against the law in any religion culture or country.
A third type of polygamy exists as polyamory and is often referred to as postmodern polygamy. Polyamory is a relationship of multiple men and women. These relationships may take the form of one man with several female partners, two men with several female partners or several women with no men. Unlike polygamy, polyamory offers more equal opportunities for divorce (Crooks and Baur, 2014). Virtually all polygamous marriages are polygynous in fact. There is no evidence that points to polyamorous relationships being likely to lead to polygyny. As such, polyamory remains problematic for much the same reasons that the current practice of polygamy (Gallichan, 2012). Due to these views, polyamory is not a clearly preferable alternative to polygamy.
Practice of polygamyIn his paper, polygamy and non-heterosexual marriages, David Chambers emphasizes that in the country’s history, the most widespread and significant practice of polygamy by far transpired among the Mormons during mid nineteenth century. To them, Mormons believed that polygamous marriages were biblical and approved by God. Polygamy is neither exclusively western nor non-western. Over the ages, Muslims, Hindus and other religious groups have practiced it. However, the number of polygamous marriages is relatively miniature despite cross- cultural presence of polygamy. (Beaman and Calder, 2013). The standard debate over the permissibility of polygamy has been characteristically pitiable. Proponents argue that in part, married men form relationships with mistresses.
These unions involve emotional commitments that are not easily terminated unlike polygamy. In essence, a married man and his mistress are involved in a polygamous relationship. Funny enough, this does not appear to generate much hostility from critics. The New Testament in the Bible never deemed it immoral or inferior to be in a monogamous union. Shockingly, more Americans are practicing polygamy than one might think. Even more horrendous is the fact that more than half of the non- industrialized societies still permit it (Bennion, 2012). It is regarded as deeply sinful to engage in sexual relationships outside the institution of marriage. In Christianity, it is believed a man should not have more than one registered wife with the state. Such an action would violate tax codes and many other legal umbrellas (Ward, 2010).
The legal laws in the United States document registered plural marriages and polygamy as illegal and therefore not be practiced (McMahon, 2010). In my opinion, polygamy is disgusting and should not be practiced neither in countries nor in cultures alike. One could easily argue what exactly does polygamy try to prove. That a man can have multiple wives, become unfaithful and get away with it? Imagine the silent anguish that a young naïve girl of twelve years endures when coerced into marrying a feebly, wobbly looking old man whom she has never seen before. Imagine the grotesque images that come into mind when this girl is forced to bear children until her body become sore due to excruciating labour pains. Imagine the girl being brainwashed and battered for contradicting beliefs held by another man and forced to live with him for her entire lifetime. Now stop imagining. This is the scary would of polygamy that exists in a form not known to many. Such are the cases that continue to recur in most countries, especially Africa and Asia. In itself, polygamy is considered a right to a selected few and a bane to majority (McMahon, 2010).
Reasons why polygamy is practiced
Before we look at the negative implications of polygamy, it would be important to understand why the system was and is still practiced to date. To many, this custom serves as a dynamic principle of family survival, growth, security, prestige and continuity (Jacobson and Burton, 2011). One of the main reasons polygamy was practiced is that several wives were seen as a symbol of wealth, power and influence in traditional African societies for many centuries. Secondly, it was important for a man in traditional society to continue his family name into future lineages (McMahon, 2010). Marrying many wives ensured that the husband would have many male children to carry on his name. It also meant that one would be remembered and honored long after their death through his children and grandchildren (Jacobson and Burton, 2011).
In the agricultural perspective, many wives meant that one would have necessary laborers for farming, taking care of livestock and performing all household chores. This was coupled with provision of help when necessity arose. A larger family was symbolic of strength and unity. It was also seen as a way to maintain happiness and add meaning to life. Having many wives was also a route of keeping the man from being amorous. The reason was that most wives denied their husbands conjugal rights after childbirth for up to two years. Hence, having an additional wife meant the husband would not be unfaithful (Jencks and Milton, 2010). For the husband, having many wives meant he would get many daughters from them. This contributed to a significant increase of his wealth through bride price at the time of his daughters’ marriage. In most traditional African societies, it was considered a vice for a woman to lack children especially in marriage (Jencks and Milton, 2010).
It was for this reason that most African women preferred to have a co-wife than remain single in ridicule. As such, polygamy solved the problem of single parenthood. It also offered women the security and dignity required for self-realization. Finally yet importantly, polygamy resulted through the ancient tradition of wife inheritance. The death of a husband whose wife had not passed childbearing age qualified for wife inheritance. The brother of the deceased was obliged to marry his brother’s widow (Beaman and Calder, 2013). All the above reasons applied in traditional African societies. However, in the contemporary world today, most of these practices have been overtaken by time and can no longer be practicable.
Negative implications of polygamy
Effects on women in polygamous marriages.In my view, polygamy is a way of life that should not be allowed in society due to its negative implications. Primarily, it creates male dominated marriages where the woman is left voiceless in the whole setup. Secondly, it forces women into subordinate roles and results in unworkable families full of strife, abuse and incest (Ward, 2010). Polygamous families usually live in isolated communities that are totally unaffected by the outside world. The seclusion of these towns raises eyebrows concerning security, safety and health of the town dwellers, state law enforcers, federal laws and the country at large (Beaman and Calder, 2013). It can therefore be argued women face greater risks in polygamous marriages. The standard argument remains that polygamy subordinates women and fails to treat the latter as equals with men. Some scholars argue that the state should not take interest in voluntary family arrangements (McMahon, 2010).
The reason behind it being that it would illegitimately endorse one comprehensive doctrine over others. To them, an unjust family arrangement is one that undermines the equality of women and fails to recognize that wives are equal citizens with their husbands. As such, polygamy is a structural inegalitarian practice that subjects women to higher risks of harmful effects compared to men (McMahon, 2010). It is for this reason that polygamy should be forbidden since it denies women the liberty, rights and opportunities available to men. In essence, polygamy represents an unjustified asymmetry of power between men and women and in my opinion should therefore be banned.
Overpopulation in affected countriesIn sub-Saharan Africa, the culture of polygamy has contributed to explosive population growth since the early 1950’s (McMahon, 2010). By exposing almost all women to early and prolonged dangers of pregnancy, polygamy results in high fertility rates of between seven and nine children in these countries. The introduction of low-priced and effective healthcare and sanitary technology from developed countries is also a contributing factor (McMahon, 2010).
The control of sexually transmitted infections becomes overly difficult in the practice of polygamy (Beaman and Calder, 2013). Take for instance a man who has five wives under his wing. He will engage in sexual relations with all of them and since he is married to all, using protection becomes inconsequential. If either the man or one of the wives is suffering from a sexually transmitted disease, every other participant in the fold is at risk of contracting it. In a study conducted in Nigeria, West Africa, it was found that those men in the survey had more than three or more wives (Beaman and Calder, 2013). This meant that they were more likely to engage in extra-marital sex and were at higher risk of contacting sexually transmitted diseases and infecting their wives. This proves women were at higher risk from men with three or more wives both as their wives and as extramarital sex partners.
As a form of behavior, Christian missionaries and Eurasian societies consider polygamy morally wrong. Well-read Christian-African elites in sub Saharan Africa believe polygamy is backward, bush and barbaric behavior (Jencks and Milton, 2010). To outsiders, polygamy is a highly undetestable social system whose origin is traced back to pre-colonial times. In addition, polygamy often coincides with crimes that target women and children such as incest, sexual assault, statutory rape and failure to pay child support (Jencks and Milton, 2010).
Another argument against polygamy is that more often than not, it is likely to present harmful effects especially towards the women and children. Women in polygamous marriages are at higher risk of having low esteem issues, depression and constant worry compared to women in monogamous relationships. Studies have also revealed these women enjoy less marital satisfaction and more problematic mother-child relationships (Bennion, 2012). Additionally, women in polygamous marriages are prone to depression when they become pregnant since their husbands divert their sexual attention to the other wives. These women are typically subservient to their husbands who only value them for the childbearing role. Consequently, polygamous women are left devoid of any powers to exercise any control of the marriage. This buds into feelings of powerlessness and emotional turmoil (Bennion, 2012).
Several studies also show that only a small fraction of women in polygamous marriages work outside the home (Ward, 2010). Most of them lack the mandate or ability to seek employment. Research on polygamy amongst the Arabs revealed that first wives are inferior to junior and subsequent wives. They experienced more economic hardships and less satisfactory relationships with their husbands. Some scholars also noted that polygamous marriages caused harmful psychological effects on a number of first wives (Ward, 2010). This caused most of them to seek mental health treatment and psychiatric outpatient services. Several of these psychological disorders seen widely among first wives included anxiety, depression and somaticized symptoms (Ward, 2010). It has also been shown that first wives and teachers described relationships with husbands and fathers as neglectful. This showed a lack of interest and minimal interaction with them and their children. This caused them to suffer adverse effects from the polygamous union. On the contrary, junior wives were highly favored by their husbands. They were allowed to obtain more economic resources and support.
Effects on children from polygamous familiesResearch indicates that children from polygamous families are at heightened risks of developing harmful effects. There is considerable evidence that points to these children experiencing higher incidence of marital conflicts, family violence and disruptions than do children of monogamous families (Jacobson and Burton, 2011). Moreover, children from polygamous backgrounds are more likely to develop behavioral and socializing problems. The same problems are also reflected in their performance in school. Most teachers unanimously agreed that problems faced by polygamous children are somewhat similar (Jacobson and Burton, 2011).These include disobedience, hyperactivity, repeated lying to a teacher or person in authority, sibling fights, enuresis and stuttering. Their levels of academic achievement were also below average.
Polygamous children displayed inability to concentrate in class, had low attendance, incompletion of homework, maladjustment to classroom procedures, peer and teacher relational problems (Jacobson and Burton, 2011). On the other hand, situational problems are likely to arise such as higher number of siblings, higher number of parental figures, absence of the father figure, competition and jealousy of family members over resources and emotional relationships with the father (Bennion, 2012). In addition, living areas were often crowded and economic resources taxed to the limit due to the high number of dependants. These children do not grow up to experience the parental love that is overflowing in monogamous systems (Bennion, 2012). Such children will be tempted to resort to other avenues to compensate the missing love. It is then that they find themselves trapped in the world of crime, adultery and other social vices. Children from polygamous marriages are more susceptible to drug abuse (Bennion, 2012).
Adolescent males in these unions were found to fair much worse than those from monogamous marriages. This was attributed to exposure to a chaotic life where the child is responsible for protecting his mother and sisters from dysfunctional stressors of living in a polygamous household (Ward, 2010). Children often become defensive of their own families and display resentment and anger towards the other sub-family. In times of discord, most of the senor wife’s children side with their mother over the biological father. The reason for this is obvious; loyalty to their mothers, half-sibling rivalry and jealousy in equal measure. However, the father and his tribe have expectations that they would side with. This has caused man of the children significant confusions with their boundaries and loyalties alike (Ward, 2010).
Effects on polygamous men
Men in polygamous marriages have been linked to several negative effects. To start with, men are more likely to suffer from alcoholism, which can arise due to psychological problems (Jencks and Milton, 2010). Secondly, men in polygamous marriages in most times fall short in terms of education achievements compared to their monogamous counterparts. This suitcase of evidence is substantial enough to believe there is a prima facie case of polygamy being linked to adverse effects. Though this effects impact upon all members of a polygamous family, women are at higher risk (Jencks and Milton, 2010).
One proposed argument defines polygamy as a structurally unequal practice. This inequality lies in the fact that polygamy as practiced today normally permits men to marry many wives while the vice versa is highly critiqued. The most convincing argument against polygamy is that men are permitted plural marriages while women are not (Jencks and Milton, 2010). This asymmetry of power is blatantly unacceptable. Structural inequality raises concerns with other issues that affect women. The argument continues to state that asymmetry of power plays a crucial role in the theme of sexual harassment. Polygamy represents asymmetry of power between man and women, which is simultaneously linked, to male domination of women (Jencks and Milton, 2010).
These reservations against polygamy are conditional upon the justification of unequal status of women. If women shared equal opportunities to marry more than one husband, then the asymmetry of power might be broken. Essentially, if there were a sex-equal polygamy that respected the consent of men and women equally, such polygamy would be justified (Beaman and Calder, 2013).While there may be structural asymmetries in the system of polygamy, the unequal status of women would be in existence together with other contributory facts. Polygamous marriages need not entail unequal status quo for women. It remains objectionable therefore for polygamy to be reserved only for men, consent notwithstanding (Beaman and Calder, 2013). In the contemporary liberal society, civil marriages that fail to assign equal importance to consent of all spouses are not tolerated. They are also rejected if they do not offer the exit option of divorce to either spouse (Beaman and Calder, 2013).Polygamy is thus unjustified because spouses lack equal options to divorce. In critical view of all these parameters, polygamy is not justified regardless of whatever ground. This asymmetry of power exists whether the polygamous marriage is polygynous or polyandrous (Beaman and Calder, 2013).
Polygamy also discriminates against non-heterosexuals. All forms of it presuppose that polygamous marriages are heterosexual marriages. If we were to defend polygamy, then we would have to make available opportunities that would include heterosexuals and exclude non-heterosexuals. Human beings must be able to exercise several capabilities including the capability of affiliation (Jencks and Milton, 2010). However, this capability forbids discrimination on basis of sexual orientation. Hence, polygamy violates the capability of affiliation as it discriminates based on sexual orientation in excluding non-heterosexuals.
This paper has highlighted many issues about polygamy, its origin, pros, and cons. The main purpose of the essay was to examine the negative effects of polygamous marriages in society. Limited defences of polygamy have been highlighted throughout this report. Most of the defences do not hold water in the current day and age. In the first place, polygamy is a structurally inegalitarian practice in fact. This article has provided prima facie evidence those polygamous marriages subject women to a greater risk of harmful effects. Furthermore, I have argued that polygamous marriages are most often polygynous marriages. Therefore, women lack the equal opportunity of men to form polygamous marriages with multiple partners of the opposite sex in practice. The second ground is that polygamy is a structurally inegalitarian practice in theory.
I have argued that polygamy not only threatens the equality of men and women in fact, but also the equality of polygamous marriage partners as the latter have asymmetrical opportunities to divorce. Additionally, the findings nonetheless associate polygamous family structures with somatic complaints among senior wives, family dysfunction between the sub-families and within the senior wife headed sub-family. Economic deprivation within the senior wife headed sub-family is also rife coupled with behavioral and scholastic problems among senior wives’ children. Moreover, the children’s behavioral problems are noted and correlate polygamy with behavioral problems, sibling rivalries and drug abuse.
However, every right needs to be guaranteed by law. It is therefore necessary that the right to polygamy be reviewed and revised accordingly. Harsh and more stringent laws should be enforced on those found practicing polygamy since it is considered illegal in most states. Justice is only possible when people have access to the judicial system, thus it is necessary that family courts be established at the provincial and district level to address issues such as polygamy. Religious scholars and clerics, consider the huge responsibility that they have towards increasing the Islamic knowledge of public and informing them on their Islamic obligations. They should consider it their duty to explain the philosophy and rational of polygamy to the community and should prevent men from polygamy. Women are the principle victims of polygamy.
They must learn more about their religious and human rights mainly when it comes to family rights and issues related to polygamy. It is only at such a time that this knowledge and awareness and practicing their rights will close the way for unjustifiable marriages of their husbands. Building the capacities and economical empowering of women is considered the main method of fighting this vice. Economical empowerment will help women to resist against the new marriages of their husbands. Thus, it is required to search areas for capacity building and economical empowerment of women through their own efforts and with the collaboration of government and other responsible organs and to implement specific programs in this regard. Children are amongst the most vulnerable in polygamous systems.
The psychological effects of discrimination and injustice between children of wives cause problems in the process of their normal growth. Specific research has been done on the psychological effects of polygamy on children and illustrated the dimensions of the forthcoming effects. Awareness might be raised via the local media, religious leaders, and the formal and informal education systems. Such awareness may lead to public discussions about the benefits and the economic and psychological burdens of polygamy. Thereby, this will enhance the ability and the freedom of individuals in the community to choose their own ways of family life. Programs should be developed to assist women and children in polygamous families to cope with the difficulties in their lives. For those already in polygamous marriages, a support group for wives could be offered in the community. In such groups, women can share their feelings and find ways to overcome pain and conflicts.
Children in polygamous families can be supported through the school system and via after-school programs. In addition, social practitioners and family therapists should develop methods of intervention with polygamous families, possibly adapting concepts and techniques taken from both family therapy and group work. All members in the family could learn how to negotiate for attention and resources, how to compromise, and how to build a successful small. Beyond counseling, for the well-being of the family as a whole, it is crucial that concrete assistance be provided where it is needed in the form of financial benefits, school materials for the children, food aid, and health care. Both men and women in polygamous families should be helped to acquire marketable skills and to enter the job market, which would give them both a modicum of financial independence and some sense of empowerment.
In conclusion, the effects of polygamy in family, society to the country have been shown to be diverse. It is clear for many particularly men that there are positive aspects of leading a polygamous life. For the remaining many, polygamy remains a stubborn lesion that results in sadness, depression, confusion, resentment, loss of identity and love. It is therefore not surprising to realize that women and children oppose this type of family life and wish to form monogamous families in the future. Moreover, members of the family do not succeed in overcoming their anger, jealousy, and antipathy. It has also been highlighted how intergenerational suffering in the form of disengagement, fighting, emotional turmoil, and interrelational conflicts are prevalent. It is important that community awareness of these potential negative effects of polygamy be elevated and addressed urgently.
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