Tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants in Britain are practicing bigamy or polygamy in order to collect bigger social welfare payments from the British state, according to experts interviewed in a British newspaper exposé on the subject.

The September 24 report shows that the phenomenon of bigamy and polygamy -- which is permitted by Islamic Sharia law -- is far more widespread in Britain than previously believed, even though it is a crime there, punishable by up to seven years in prison.

The rapid growth in multiple marriages is being fuelled by multicultural policies that grant special rights to Muslim immigrants who demand that Sharia law be reflected in British law and the social welfare benefits system.

The exposé quotes two senior social welfare experts based in Lancashire (one of the most "multicultural" areas in Britain) who estimate that there are now at least 20,000 bigamous or polygamous Muslim unions in England and Wales. This would imply that around 300,000 people are living in polygamous families in Britain if the average size of such a "family" is 15 people.

The multiple marriages are encouraged by recent changes to the British welfare system which allows Muslim immigrants to have a second, third or fourth wife (or in some cases five or more) treated as a single mother who can get a house and an array of other state payments for herself and her children.

The exposé shows how Muslim men can take a new spouse from anywhere in the world, father any number of children with her, and have British taxpayers assume responsibility for this family's upkeep and care.

Although all marriages that take place in the United Kingdom must be monogamous, Muslim immigrants can employ countless evasions to practice polygamy without running afoul of British matrimony laws.

Muslim men, for example, can marry their extra "wives" in an Islamic Nikah ceremony, either in their own homes or in a mosque. Because these marriages are not officially recognized, they do not appear in government statistics, nor do they have any status under the law. As a result, the "single mothers" involved in these marriages are entitled to receive welfare benefits from the British state.

Another technique is for a Muslim couple to marry legally under British law but then divorce, leaving them then to have a Nikah ceremony and continue living together. The woman will then be entitled to welfare payments as a single mother and the man can then bring another woman from abroad and legally marry her in Britain.

Muslim men also cheat the system by bringing brides from abroad as nannies for their children, or as nurses for a sick relative. After the bride's one year visitors' visa expires, she then disappears into a tight-knit local Muslim community and is entitled to receive welfare handouts.

Apart from the "nanny ruse," new female partners enter the country using tourist visas, student visas or work permits. They simply overstay the visas, which are normally for six months, and remain in Britain, often hiding away in their husband's home.

The United Kingdom also recognizes polygamous marriages where both parties were resident in a country in which the practice is legal before they moved to Britain. Following a 2008 change that the former Labour government made to British law, a Muslim man with four spouses is entitled to receive £10,000 ($15,000) a year in income support alone. He could also be entitled to more generous housing and council tax benefits, to reflect the fact that his household needs a bigger property.

The end result is that the more babies produced by Muslim polygamists, the more state welfare money pours in for them and their wives. By having a string of wives living in separate homes, thousands of Muslim immigrants are squeezing tens of millions of British pounds from the state by claiming benefits intended for single mothers and their children.

Those women are eligible for full housing benefits -- reaching £106,000 ($250,000) a year in some parts of London -- and child benefits paid at £1,000 ($1,500) a year for a first child, and nearly £700 ($1,000) for each subsequent one.

By way of example, the exposé describes a street in a Yorkshire town where all the residents are Pakistani women with children living on social security. There is not one man living in the street.

The report says: "The men find second wives in the UK as well as any Muslim country abroad. The new favourite places to find women are Turkey and Morocco, because the men can drive there by car to meet them and bring them back."

The report also interviews a Muslim woman who was deserted by her husband of 20 years when he went on holiday to Bangladesh and returned to say he was about to marry a girl of 19 in a Nikah ceremony, and wanted to bring her to Britain as his second wife.

"All over the place, in London's East End, in Yorkshire towns, down the road, across the street, I see Muslim men taking second or third wives. I cannot count the number of times I have been approached to be a second wife myself by Bangladeshi men who know I am now on my own," she said.

A separate investigative report also describes how Muslim women suffer as a result of polygamy. It quotes a government social worker who is active in Muslim neighbourhoods as saying: "The first wives get depressed because they are so ashamed of their husband taking a second or third wife. Many wives have been here for years, but have never been allowed to learn English or even go out of the house alone. They have no one to turn to for help."

The controversy over multiple marriages in Britain made the headlines September 16 with the publication of a hard-hitting essay titled, "Polygamy, Welfare Benefits and an Insidious Silence." It was written by Baroness Shreela Flather, Mayor of Windsor and Maidenhead, who was herself born in Lahore (now part of Pakistan) and was the first Asian woman member of the British House of Lords.

As Lady Flather explained, "Britain's social security system incentivises idleness and fecklessness. And one of the most worrying aspects of this -- and which is something that has been a taboo subject for far too long, because of sensitivities about the issue of race -- is the way the system is exploited by some migrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh."

She continued: "There is now a growing wealth of evidence that the generosity of the welfare state encourages some Muslims to produce ever larger families in order to claim extra payments and publicly-subsidized housing. And it's something the system seems to allow too easily."

Lady Flather also lamented the reluctance of politicians to address the issue. "It is certainly difficult to discuss, because this phenomenon of serial marriage and exploitation of the benefits system is taboo -- with few people in Britain seeming to want to face the disturbing truth. Indeed, any mention of this issue is seen in politically-correct quarters as a much greater crime than the wanton abuse of the welfare system and of taxpayers' money," she wrote.

"In our politically-correct society," she continued, "nothing smothers open debate more than the accusation of racism…. Indeed, there is some evidence that the Department for Work and Pensions, which is responsible for running the welfare system, has turned a blind eye to the incidence of polygamy in Muslim communities. Two years ago, ministers proposed a change to the law to tackle the issue — only to back down after being warned this could contravene human rights legislation."

Lady Flather also warned about the creeping acceptance of Islamic Sharia law. "Nor should we tolerate the acceptance of Sharia law in areas of this country (as some militants minorities have been calling for) since an extreme interpretation of the Islamic code treats women as second-class citizens, stripping them of their rights on practically everything from property to divorce, which they have under British law," she wrote.

Two years ago, another peer, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a British-born Muslim of Pakistani parents, told the BBC that politicians have failed to tackle the problem of polygamy because of "cultural sensitivity. We've just avoided either discussing or dealing with the matter head on."

Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.

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