Activists have posted a memo on Facebook allegedly from the Eritrean government asking men to marry at least two wives due to an acute shortage of men occasioned by causalities during the civil war with Ethiopia.
A copy of a scanned decision of the Grand Mufti surfaced on the social media site on Thursday last week and showed the State of Eritrea calling for all men in the country to marry at least two wives and the government assuring that it will pay for the marriage ceremonies and houses.
The document, which could not be independently verified, says any man or woman who oppose the decision “will face a life sentence”.
A Standard report showed that activists had translated the memo — written in Arabic — to:
“Based on the law of God in polygamy, and given the circumstances in which the country is experiencing in terms of men shortage, the Eritrean department of Religious Affairs has decided on the following:
“First that every man shall marry at least two women and the man who refuses to do so shall be subjected to life imprisonment with hard labour.
“The woman who tries to prevent her husband from marrying another wife shall be punished to life imprisonment.”
More than 150,000 Eritrean soldiers were killed during the secession war from Ethiopia between 1998 and 2000. At the time Eritrea had about four million people.
Eritrea is one of Africa’s most authoritarian societies and has on several occasions been accused of “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations,” by the United Nations, The Washington Post reported.
The country ranks that worst (189 out of 189) on the World Bank’s ease-of-doing-business index.
Many African countries still allow polygamy and some, including Kenya, have even enshrined it in their constitutions.
Instances of polygamy in many African countries have dropped significantly mainly due to increased urbanization, spread of Christianity and higher literacy levels.
There are however still higher cases of multiple wives in Muslim communities across the continent.