Right of Woman in "More-Than-One" Marriage
- :Shahid Murtaza Mutahhari
We have explained the causes of the failure of polyandry and the prevailing of polygamy and have shown that multifarious causes have contributed to the origin of the latter custom. Some of the causes originated from the man's spirit of oppression and domination and others from the disparity between man and woman as regards the duration of their power or procreation and the number of children which each of them can beget. The latter type of causes can be regarded as a justification for polygamy. But its main cause, throughout history has been the numerical superiority of women eligible for marriage over such men. This cause leads to the creation of a right of woman and an obligation of man.
To avoid a lengthy discussion, we skip over those causes which can be regarded merely as a justification for polygamy and confine our attention to its main cause which, when in existence, turns it into a right of the fair sex.
To prove the case two preliminary points have to be established. First it is to be proved that according to the reliable statistics the women eligible for marriage actually outnumber such men. The second point to be proved is that the actual existence of circumstances creates a right which married men and women owe to the women who have been deprived of marriage.
As for the first point, fortunately almost authentic statistics exist in the modern world. A census is taken in every country periodically. In the advanced countries not only are the total figures of males and females collected, but the number of men and women in various age groups is also shown. These figures are regularly published by the United Nations in its annual reports on world population.(We have before us the 1964 report, republished in 1965.)
It may be pointed out that for our purpose it is not enough to know the total number of males and females in any given country. Simultaneously, we should also know the ratio between the number of men and the number of women eligible for marriage. In most cases this ratio is different from that which exists between the total population of males and the total population of females. There are two reasons for this difference. One is that the onset of puberty in females is earlier. That is why in most countries the legal age of consent in the case of girls is lower than in the case of boys. Practically in most of the countries of the world the husband is on an average five years older than the wife.
The other and the more important reason is that the mortality rate among the boys is higher than among the girls, with the result that during the marriageable age the balance between them is upset. Sometimes the disparity becomes very marked. It may be that the total number of males and females in a country is almost equal, or even the number of males is higher, but still the girls of marriageable age far exceed the boys of the corresponding age group.
The United Nations Population Report for the year 1964 bears witness to this fact.
For instance, according to this report, the total population of the Republic of Korea is 26,277,635 people. Out of this total 13,145,289 are males and 13,132,346 are females. Thus the number of males is 12,943 more than that of females. This ratio is maintained in the children of less than one year, of 1 to 4 years, of 5 to 9 years, of 12 to 14 years and of 15 to 19 years.
Statistics show that in all these age groups the number of males is larger than that of females. But in the age group of 20 to 24, the ratio changes. In this age group the total number of males is 1,083,364 and the total number of females is 1,110,051. In all the higher age groups, which are the groups of marriageable age, the number of females is greater.
Still the case of the Republic of Korea, where the total number of males is greater than females, is exceptional. In almost all other countries, not only in marriageable age groups but also in the total population, the females outnumber the males. For instance, the total population of the Soviet Union, is 216,101,000 and out of this total 97,840,000 are males and 118,261,000 are females. This disparity is maintained throughout all age groups, pre-marriageable as well as marriageable, that is from 20 years to 24 years, from 25 years to 29 years, from 30 years to 34 years and even from 80 years to 84 years.
The same is the case with other countries, such as England, France, West Germany, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Rumania, Hungary, U.S.A., Japan etc. Of course at certain places, such as West Berlin and East Berlin, the disparity between the number of males and the number of females is abnormally large.
In India, in the marriageable age group the number of men exceeds the number of women. Only in the age group of 50 and above, the number of women is greater. Apparently the supposed paucity of women is due to the fact that many people in that country do not like to mention the names of their young wives and young daughters at the time of census.
According to the figures of the last census, Iran is one of the exceptional countries, where the number of males exceeds the number of females.
It is surprising that some critics insist that the law allowing polygamy should be abolished at least in those countries where the number of men exceeds the number of women. In the first instance, this law is universal. It is not meant for any particular country. Secondly it is not enough to know the ratio of males and females in the total population. We have seen that in the Republic of Korea, though the number of males is greater in the total population, there are more females in the marriageable age group. Furthermore, the census figures are not very reliable in many countries. For example, we know for definite that though polygamy has been customary in Iran, both in the urban and the rural areas, yet never has a shortage of would-be brides been felt there. This fact speaks better than the census figures.
Ashley Montague, in his book, 'Woman the Superior Sex', admits that throughout the world the number of women in the marriageable age exceeds the number of men.
The statistics of 1950 show that the number of women of marriageable age in America exceeded the number of men by about one million four hundred and thirty thousand.
Bertrand Russell in his book, 'Marriage and Morality' says that, in the present day England, more than two million women exceed men. According to the custom they should forever remain childless, which is a big privation for them.
Some years ago a news item appeared in the press. It said that following much pressure by those German women, who were unable to get husbands and family life, because of the huge German casualties in the Second World War, the German Government had approached Al-Azhar University to provide it with the formula of polygamy. Later it was learnt that following serious opposition by the Church the proposal had to be dropped. The Church preferred the privation of women and the spread of licentiousness to the system of polygamy, because this system is Eastern and Islamic.
Adapted from the book: "Woman and Her Rights" by: "Shahid Murtaza Mutahhari
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