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What is Polygamy?

Polygamy involves marriage with more than one spouse.

Pretoria – Women in polygamous marriages have been granted equal rights to those who enter into civil unions, by the high court in Limpopo.

With the country celebrating Women’s Day on Tuesday August 9, the court found that a section of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act unjustifiably discriminated against women in polygamous customary marriages. This was on the basis of gender, race and social origin.

Acting Judge A Lamminga referred to this as “old” polygamous customary marriages. Wives who entered into these “old” marriages had no claim to their husband’s assets – including property – which were acquired during the marriage. The court heard that the women affected by the now invalid provisions are mostly older, poor and live in rural areas.

While neither they nor their children stand to inherit anything after the death of their husbands, the women who entered into customary law marriages are protected by law. So are the children.

The judge said the women who entered into the “old” marriages were still being excluded from benefiting from their husband’s property and this left them and their children particularly vulnerable.

“Denying them equal protection perpetuates their vulnerability in many respects. Women who have no rights in matrimonial property are vulnerable to eviction and may find acquiring property rights challenging,” he said.