LONDON: Two experienced Lancashire social workers say that in their estimation, there are 20,000 bigamous or polygamous unions in the UK.
Although the government says there are only 1,000 such bigamous or polygamous unions in the UK, the two experienced Lancashire social workers — one of Indian-English heritage and the other with Pakistani origin, said multiple marriages are encouraged by a welfare system which allows a second, third or fourth wife to be treated as a single mother who gets a house and an array of other state payments for herself and her children.
Controversially, it means that a man can take a new spouse (from anywhere in the world), sire any number of children with her, and yet have no responsibility for this family’s upkeep or care.
To avoid breaking Britain’s matrimony laws, the men marry their extra ‘wives’ in an Islamic Nikah ceremony, either in their own homes or a mosque.
These marriages are not recognized officially, so they do not appear in government statistics or have any status under the law.
They also do not count when assessing welfare payments, the Daily Mail reports.
Another technique is for a couple to marry legally under British law, but then divorce, leaving them then to have a Nikah ceremony and continue living together.
The woman will then be entitled to welfare payments as a single mother and the man can then bring another woman from abroad and legally marry her in Britain.
Men also cheat the system by bringing brides from abroad as nannies for their children, or as carers for a sick relative. The bride gets a year’s visitors’ visa, disappears into a tight-knit local community, and is entitled to receive welfare handouts.
While it has long been a cliche for men to complain that their wives and children take up most of their income, the reality for polygamous husbands is that the more babies he sires, the more money pours in for him and his wives.
As Tariq Ali, the 45-year-old co-founder of Project BME (Black Minority Ethnics), a charity based in Darwen, Lancashire, admits: ‘There are thousands of bigamous and polygamous marriages in the UK’s Pakistani community — the same community into which I was born.
‘Every single man of my age who I bump into seems to have a third, fourth or fifth wife.
‘The issue is going unreported but in the Asian communities this is becoming a way of life. I think the number of polygamous relationships must be 20,000.
His colleague, Zed Ali, the manager of Project BME, added: ‘These arrangements satisfy a man’s sexual desires when he is trapped in an unhappy or sexless arranged marriage with a first wife and their families don’t countenance a divorce.
‘The first wives often accept the situation as a compromise. There is a limitless number of girls living in Muslim countries wanting to come to the UK for what they, and their parents, think is a better life even as a second, third or fourth wife.
Baroness Warsi said cultural sensitivity was stopping politicians addressing the problem. Officially, bigamy and polygamy are punishable by up to seven years in prison. It was declared illegal in England and Wales in 1604, when the Parliament of James I took action to restrain ‘evil persons’ marrying more than one wife — on penalty of death.