What is the future of Polygamy in Africa?
The traditional practice of polygyny, whereby only a man is allowed to marry more than one wife in a customary marriage, has long been perceived to be an offender of women’s rights. Recent family law reforms on the African continent show that the focus has been on promoting and protecting the rights of women as defined in international human rights law, as well as on respecting the practice of polygyny. These legislative reforms in jurisdictions such as Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa show that the approach to regulating polygyny has been either to legalise, abolish, or regulate the practice. In view of the focus in these reforms on both women’s rights and respect for the practice of polygyny, this document examines the different approaches of the selected countries to regulating the practice.
In particular, this paper investigates how these countries are striking a balance between polygyny and the protection of women’s rights. It will also highlight the difficulties that law reformers face in regulating the practice in such a way as to protect women’s rights, as well as the gaps in the law reforms that need to be addressed.