Kurdish men go to nearby Sheikhan to take a second wife under Iraqi law. File photo: AFP
DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – Bahar thought her 35-year-old husband was sweating away in Europe to save enough money for her and their three children to live a comfortable life in Duhok city in the Kurdistan Region. His mobile phone was off and the couple communicated occasionally via the instant messaging app Viber.
However, one day late last year, Bahar’s dream came crashing down. She was shopping in the bazaar in Duhok when she spotted her husband with another woman. Bahar, not her real name, confronted her husband and was shocked to realise that he was never in Europe and instead was living with another woman with whom he had a child.
In 2008, the Kurdistan Region parliament amended the Personal Status Law of 1959 making it obligatory for a husband to obtain the consent of the first wife before marrying a second. Iraqi parliament has not passed a similar amendment.
To her surprise, Bahar realized that her husband had gone to the nearby city of Sheikhan, which is under the central government rule, and there married a second wife. He needed no consent from Bahar.
Bahar is one of a growing number of women in the Kurdistan Region whose husbands make quick, secret journeys to nearby towns and cities such as Kirkuk, Mosul, and Sheikhan to marry a second wife under Iraqi law.
Sheikhan has become a focal point for many men from Duhok province. The number of men from the northern province registering their second marriage is also growing.
“This court practices Iraqi law and is close to us. That is why many men turn to this court to marry a second wife and this is about to become a phenomenon,” Lieutenant Colonel Aram Mohammed, head of the Office for Countering Violence against Women in Duhok, said about the court in Sheikhan.
Sheikhan is located in Duhok province. The largely Yezidi town is run by the federal government and follows Iraqi law, which allows polygamy, thus attracting men who want multiple wives.
“Some men marry a second wife secretly. They take the new wife to a flat or house outside town and visit her once or twice a week under the guise of visiting Erbil. Some men stay with their new wife during the day and go back to their first wife for the night,” Mohammed said.
Last year, 10 women submitted complaints to his office, saying their husbands had secretly remarried.
Khairia Saleh has been working as a lawyer at Sheikhan Court for 15 years. She said registration of polygamous marriages in the region is on the rise thanks to Iraqi law.
“Compared to previous years, legalizing marriage contracts at Sheikhan Court for married men has risen substantially. Men from Erbil, Sulaimani and other places come to Sheikhan Court to marry a second wife,” she explained.
Organizations advocating for women’s rights in the region have called for action against the practice, urging authorities to stop it.
“What is happening at Sheikhan Court is a flagrant violation of women’s rights. Relevant authorities should interfere and stop this phenomenon,” said Rezhin Niheli, head of the media office of the Kurdistan Women Union in Duhok.
Under current laws of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), in order for a man to be able to legally marry a second wife in the Kurdistan Region, he needs his first wife to give her consent before a judge, provide evidence that his first wife is infertile or lost the ability to engage in sexual activity, demonstrate he can financially support more than a wife, and sign a paper promising he will be fair and just with both women. In addition, the marriage certificate of the first wife should not bind the man to only one partner.
Polygamy, illegal in most countries, is common in many Muslim countries. Recently, the leading imam of Egypt’s top Islamic establishment, al-Azhar, said
men who want polygamous marriages “must obey conditions of fairness.”
“If there is not fairness it is forbidden to have multiple wives,” Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb added.