KAMPALA, UGANDA – Tom Kasekende, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, says he grew up in a polygamous home in which his father had several wives.
“I grew up in a polygamous family,” he says. “My father had many wives, some of them I did not even know. I would just hear about them as a child.”
He says that his family was Protestant, but his father’s many wives would often engage in witchcraft in order to compete for their husband’s attention.
“They were always bewitching each other to get my father’s attention,” he says.
Kasekende says that, as he grew up, he decided that polygamy wasn’t a the way of life he would choose.
“Children in a polygamous marriage are not loved by their parents, especially the father, who is always moving from one family to another,” he says. “As a man, the women are always bewitching you, and you even get confused.”
He says that polygamy may have thrived in traditional societies, when the cost of living was relatively low. But he says that the high cost of living and rising inflation today make large families less sustainable. He says that more than ever, having multiple wives – all with their own children – breeds greed, selfishness and poverty in homes.
“In the ’60s and ’70s, it was cheap to look after a family because there was no school fees, no mobile phones, but these days the cost of living is high,” Kasekende says. “Many children growing up in polygamous settings may lack school fees.”
Polygamy, currently legal in Uganda, may soon face restrictions by a bill tabled in Parliament. Some Ugandans who grew up in polygamous families say it harms children and women. Others say it’s natural and encouraged by Muslim law.
Twenty-eight percent of married women in Uganda are in polygamous unions, according to the latest Uganda Demographic and Health Survey, UDHS, from 2006. This shows a slight decrease from the 32 percent recorded in the 2000-2001 UDHS. The number of women married to men with more than one other co-wife also decreased slightly from 10 percent to 7 percent.
Inflation – at 16 percent as of May 2011 – is the highest it’s been since May 1994. An April World Bank report revealed that the cost of maize in Uganda, a staple food, increased by 114 percent during the previous year.
Various legal acts validate polygamy in Uganda. But because Uganda recognizes several types of marriage – customary, civil, Christian, Muslim and Hindu – polygamy laws in Uganda apply to groups differently. In 2009, Uganda’s previous Parliament introduced the Marriage and Divorce Bill, which permits polygamy only in customary and Islamic marriages. The bill passed its first reading but was tabled until the current Parliament, which assumed office in May.
As debate over the bill has gone on, women’s rights activists say that polygamy already violates Sections 33(4) and (6) of the 1995 Ugandan Constitution, which prohibit any laws, traditions or customs that violate women’s rights or reduce their equality with men.