Proposal in Malaysia would better protect earlier wives in polygamous marriages

A proposed amendment to Malaysia's Islamic law would allow courts to require a man who wants to marry an additional wife to pay alimony to earlier wives even if they continue living with him, news reports said Wednesday. The proposal also would give the courts the authority to award a share of the wealth amassed during a marriage to the current wife or wives before an additional one is married.

The amendment to Malaysia's Shariah law, which allows a man to marry up to four wives, is aimed at ensuring that earlier wives and children do not lose their belongings after a new marriage and that husbands make a responsible decision about whether to take on a new wife, the New Straits Times reported. An earlier wife should be secure in knowing that her husband cannot take the wealth they amassed together and wastefully spend it on a new wife, Shariah Judiciary Department director-general Syeikh Ghazali Abdul Rahman told The Star newspaper.

Property would be divided according to the wives' contribution to it, Syeikh Ghazali was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times. "The courts will ensure that half the proceeds from the property they helped purchase will go to them," he added. "If the husbands cannot meet this requirement, they can forget about taking another wife." Islamic religious officials were not immediately available for comment.

Polygamy is outlawed for non-Muslims in Malaysia but the law is not strictly enforced. Muslim men who want to marry additional wives need permission from their existing spouses before they can marry again. A survey published last month showed that about 10 percent of married Malaysian Muslim men have more than one wife.

Syeikh Ghazali said that, under the proposed amendment, the court would summon the husband, his wife or wives, wife-to-be and the person who will solemnize the new marriage to hear the consequences of being in a polygamous relationship, and the rights of all parties involved. Islam is the official religion in Malaysia and more than half of the country's 26 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims. The rest are ethnic Chinese and Indians and tribes people who embrace Christianity, Buddhism or Hinduism.

Only the Muslims are subject to Islamic law and courts, which exists here alongside a secular legal system, AP reported. Syeikh Ghazali also said a Shariah law standardization was in progress, to be adopted by all 13 Malaysian states. The states sometimes have separate clauses and practice the law differently, The Star newspaper said.

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