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Viewpoints > How to get out of polygamy?
Portrait d'une négresse, Guilhelmine, 1800

1. The context

What is polygamy?

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, Chad, Togo.

The increase 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 housing project.

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 living permits

2.1 The texts

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 effective.
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 assistance plan.

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.

Case 1 :

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 issue.
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:

 an attestation of registration for low income housing, either with the administrative services (state, local), or with a leaser or leasers who received the request;

an attestation from associations and/or from social workers, sensitized to this question and known to the police for their action in this field;

registration 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.

Case 3 :

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 support.

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.

3.2 Resources

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 :

 for 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;

for minors 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 parents.

However, the Social Security office is also dependant on international conventions which have been ratified by France (consult the migrant workers social security office).

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 assistance

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:

 prior 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);

re-housing assistance.

Can be requested:

- 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 person.

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 child support.

Source : social affaires ministry - September 2004

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