Polyandry in SA: Govt says no to women with multiple husbands

Polyandry in SA: Govt says no to women with multiple husbands

The Department of Home Affairs has decided not to amend legislation to legalise polyandry in South Africa.


In South Africa, men can marry several wives, but women are prohibited from having multiple husbands as the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act recognises polygamy but not polyandry.

The White Paper on Marriages in South Africa published by the Department of Home Affairs concluded that legislation should not be amended to allow women to have multiple husbands.

Howls of protest from conservative quarters followed the publication of the Green Paper last year, which suggested that polyandrous marriages be granted the same legal protection as polygamous marriages.

The government has clarified its stance in the White Paper that polyandry “should not be included in the marriage policy or statute”.

A White Paper, which forms part of the legislative process, is a statement of intent and a detailed policy plan which often forms the basis of legislation.

A draft Bill will follow before it’s debated and adopted by Parliament and approved by Cabinet.

- Reasons for rejecting legalising polyandry in South Africa - 

The government acceded that there is no constitutional or legal basis for rejecting polyandry.

“Although the inclusion of polyandrous marriages would promote the principles of equality, protection of women’s rights and gender emancipation, polyandry doesn’t seem to be practised widely enough to warrant recognition at this stage of development of the country’s constitutional democracy,” reads the document.

The outcry following the proposal to allow women to have multiple husbands was also featured in the White Paper.


The government listed the following reasons for its rejection:

• Polyandry is contrary to the dominant patriarchal culture, which accepts or tolerates men who have multiple partners.

• Polyandry is contrary to traditional and religious practices.

• Polyandry has the potential to negatively affect the family structure.

• Difficulties associated with proving paternity for children who will be born in a polyandrous relationship.


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