Etymologically, polygamy means multiple marriages and is applied to
the plurality of husbands (polyandry) or wives (polygyny). De fait,
the term polygamy has come to mean the plurality of spouses.
Polygamy is recognized in about 50 countries : Afghanistan, Algeria,
Angola, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Burma, Brunei, Burkina
Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central Africa, Comoros, Congo, Djibouti,
Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Gabon, Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, Indonesia,
Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Lesotho, Lebanon, Liberia,
Libya, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Nigeria, Oman, Uganda, Pakistan,
Qatar, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Syria, Tanzania,
in African immigration in the 1980's, increased the practice of polygamy
in France while it is regressing in African urban areas. Yet this
social and economic system is incompatible with that of French society
which rests upon the principles of equality and individual liberty.
Polygamy, a brake to integration
Depending on the source, the evaluation of the number of polygamist
families in France varied between 8.000 et 15.000 in 1992-1993, thus
concerning a maximum of 150.000 people, taking into account the average
number of children. Their living conditions do not encourage good
integration as various publications have shown since 1985. These publications
demonstrate the difficulties encountered by the women as well as the
children of polygamist families in France: the difficulty in getting
their share of space relative to the other wives, promiscuity, isolation
and financial dependence on spouses which exacerbate the competitive
relationship, these latter favoring the birth rate, degradation of
the mother-child relationship.
There are numerous testimonials by African women denouncing the situation
which they are subjected to. The arrival of a second wife is rarely
accepted and fighting is frequent. The women do not always have free
access to information about birth control and contraceptives. The
children, very numerous, are often left to fend for themselves and
have difficulty following their schoolwork. The women find themselves
in a system which does not encourage their participation in the outside
world or their autonomy.
Concerning housing, polygamist households often encounter serious
problems linked essentially to the lack of housing large enough to
accommodate the exceptional size of their family which accentuates
the difficulties already encountered by other disadvantaged households.
A phenomenon of serious overcrowding is created with the expected
resulting consequences: in particular, promiscuity unfavorable to
the children's healthy growth, a general and rapid degradation due
to the exceptionally intensive use of comfort elements and problems
with neighbors sparked off by the private use of common areas of a
As a consequence, faced with the strong reluctance of most landlords,
many families are left with a choice among the worst available housing,
which accentuates the risks of insalubrity and intoxication.
In a legal context which forbids polygamy, it is not uncommon that
the papers of one wife are substituted for the papers of another wife.
This practice can lead to difficulties in getting medical assistance
which can then lead to health and identity problems.
In 1993, legislative provisions were adopted with the goal of limiting
to a single spouse the possibility of family regrouping. The law also
had the provision that the residence card would not be renewed for
polygamist men and that at the time of renewal, they would receive
a one-year carte de séjour.
These provisions had been applied in a relatively flexible manner
until 2000, the date at which the first residence cards issued before
1993 would expire. Withdrawal measures were put into place, provoking
certain incomprehension and difficulties.
The objective of this page is therefore to reiterate the principles
and the legislative provisions in effect and also to indicate the
recommendations which could help find solutions to help the women
concerned to get out of a polygamist marriage.
2. The texts and their consequences on the renewal of resident alien
The ordinance dated November 2, 1945 defines the immigration entry
conditions for foreigners in France. This ordinance has been modifies
by law #93-1027 dated August 24, 1993 which forbids issuing a resident
alien living permit to a foreign national living in a polygamous situation.
Indeed, article 15 bis stipulates that "in derogation of the
provisions of articles 14 and 15, the residence card cannot be issued
to a foreign national who lives in a polygamous relationship or to
the spouses of such a foreign national. A residence card issued in
ignorance of these arrangements must be taken back".
Like this, the legislator wanted to very firmly forbid the existence
of active polygamy in France by asking the prefects to refuse issuing
or renewing alien resident living permits of polygamous foreign nationals
and of their spouses, except for the first one. However, polygamous
families had been given living permits before the 1993 law became
Also, the Interior Ministry bill dated April 25, 2000 plans for granting
temporary residence cards with either the word "visitor"
or "employee" or "non salaried worker" ("
actif non salarié ") noted on it, in consideration of
the length of time some families had been living in France. The renewal
of these permits is subject to the fact that the people concerned
have the desire to slacken their polygamous ties.
The government thus wishes to support a process of ending the polygamous
matrimonial system by giving the spouses access to liberty. This liberty
means that the wives who leave their husbands are able to deal with
the specific constraints born from the "decohabitation".
This also notably presumes a desire to help them assume their parental
responsibilities and to incite them to integrate training programs
and grant access to employment.
In this framework, the process of exiting a polygamous relationship
is based on access to separate housing which represents a required
condition for true independence. The June 10, 2001 bill DPM/AC14/2001/358
concerning housing for women leaving polygamous households and committed
to a process of independence reminds the prefects of the guidance
to be given to support this step.
It is also useful to remember that aside from the first wife, polygamous
families constituted after the application of the 1993 law have irregular
situation status. These women cannot benefit from the polygamy exit
Another reminder that in compliance with article 21-24 of the civil
code, no one can be naturalized if they cannot prove their assimilation
to the French community. Therefore, the practice of polygamy en France
creates an obstacle to acquiring French nationality and can bring
about the application of a procedure of annulation in the case of
naturalization acquired by fraud.
2.2 The Renewal of alien resident living permits.
During the first request for renewal of residence cards by foreigners
living in France in a polygamous situation, pursuant to the February
8, 1994 bill in application of the August 24, 1993 law, only the first
wife - meaning the one that entered France through the family regrouping
process or, in the absence of this, the first wife that was granted
a spouse visa - will have her residence card renewed. A one-year temporary
living permit, with the note "employee" or " non-salaried
worker" will be issued to the head of the family and to the wives
other than the first one, after notification of the refusal to renew
the residence card.
One year later, the renewal of these permits is not automatic. Three
cases must be distinguished at the time of the request.
The polygamous situation no longer legally exists following a modification
of the matrimonial system of the applicant. The different types of
living permits can thus be issued, including a residence card, if
the basic conditions have been fulfilled as well.
This issuing only applies to the wives no longer living in a polygamous
situation. However it doesn't apply to the husband or the other wives
who wish to maintain their polygamous relationship.
Case 2 :
The matrimonial system remains unchanged, but the applicant shows
all necessary documentation establishing the existence of a home separate
that of her polygamous husband (lease, attestation from a housing
residence). "Employee" or "non-salaried worker"
living permits will then be renewed in the same form as the initial
However, in the hypothesis where the independence process started
by the applicant is not yet concluded, the renewal of this temporary
living permit will then be subject to the applicant producing documents
attesting to their really taking the necessary steps. Three types
of documents must be presented by the applicant in a cumulative manner:
attestation of registration for low income housing, either with the
administrative services (state, local), or with a leaser or leasers
who received the request;
from associations and/or from social workers, sensitized to this question
and known to the police for their action in this field;
in a training or literacy program at the ANPE (unemployment office).
After one year, the request would be reconsidered if for women in
cases 1 or 2.
The matrimonial system remains unchanged and the polygamous
situation on French territory is still in place without proof of the
applicant's desire for independence. The "employee" or "non-salaried
worker" living permit will be renewed as a temporary visitor
visa, except if a work contract endorsed by the DDTEFP is presented.
3. Necessary steps to help the spouse gain autonomy
This necessarily long stage includes
several steps such as finding housing, employment, and training. The
elements that follow summarize the essential points for which specialized
or general Social Services, associations and women relays should propose
3.1 Alien Resident Living Permit
To renew their alien resident living permit, the family will have
to bring proof that they are no longer living in polygamous conditions
as explained in cases 1 and 2 above.
Facilitate the financial independence of the women concerned can consist
of helping them find or keep a job, assisting them in establishing
their right to welfare assistance if necessary and valid, - especially
the API- and possibly the RMI, even assisting in organizing an initial
budget, but also in collecting financial support for the new home
from the fathers in accordance with common right measures.
One of the conditions required to receive welfare payments for non
nationals is :
adults, the regularity of permanent residence in France certified
by the residence card or by the temporary living permit or the receipts
for their alien resident permit renewal;
born outside France, the presentation of the OMI (Office des Migrations
Internationales) medical control certificate and the condition that
they will be under the constant and permanent supervision of their
the Social Security office is also dependant on international conventions
which have been ratified by France (consult the migrant workers social
3.3 Training and Employment
Legal foreigners receive full benefits and equal treatment as nationals.
As a result of this, measures in the fight against unemployment and
in favor of employment give access to professional training programs.
Regional delegations of the FASILD can give the contact information
of language training organisms with which they work. Independence
first of all means information and orientation towards literacy programs,
language training and training internships for women who have no job
and no income, for those who need it.
3.4 Housing: a fundamental localization and the need for social
Housing and social assistance should encourage the independence of
the women as much as possible. This means that localization near public
services (school, day care, transportation…) and possibly even a job
should be favored. The assistance can have three phases:
re-housing assistance (social diagnostic, work on the adherence to
the principle of decohabitation, elaboration of a project leading
to independence, assistance in looking for housing);
- financial aid from the FSL (Fonds de Solidarité pour le Logement),
to cope with certain moving in expenses such as the deposit, turning
on utilities, insurance, moving expenses, basic furnishings and even
the first months rent;
- financial assistance from the LOCAPASS plan which stems from the
1% housing program. This plan allows for getting an loan for the deposit
to b able to sign a lease and guarantees payment of the rent and the
charges in case of default by the tenant. This guarantee is possible
for a maximum of 18 months rent and charges. The beneficiaries are
the employees of private non agricultural businesses and people under
30 years old who are looking for work or starting their first job.
post-re-housing assistance: the assistance is adapted in its length
and content depending on the specific needs of each family. Its aim
is to create independence in the management of housing and social
and administrative tasks.
3.5 Health (medical insurance, pregnancy, death)
Are considered as having the rights of an employee: the spouse, dependant
children and family members living under the same roof as the insured
If the polygamous situation of an employee was recognized prior to
1993, his children benefit from his social security affiliation, whoever
their mother was. Their rights are maintained.
In the case of decohabitation, it is advisable for the wife and her
children leaving the polygamous home to get autonomous health insurance
as quickly as possible, and even a CMU (couverture maladie universelle)
plan if necessary.
3.6. Family Status
Before starting the process of decohabitation it is necessary to help
establish a family negotiation in the course of which all questions
concerning material as well as moral (children's education, sharing
responsibilities, the rights and responsibilities of each parent,
parental authority) considerations may be asked.. Le JAF (Family Court
Judge) will only become involved in the case of a major disagreement
which is resistant to mediation.
In the case of a disagreement over parental authority, the protagonists
are advised to appeal to adapted family mediation structures. If the
disagreement persists, it is the family court judge as a final recourse
who will determine where the children will live and the amount of
Source : social affaires ministry - September 2004