Polygamy ups HIV infection risk in Kenya

Thirteen of every 100 married Kenyan women have co-wives. This means they are married to men who have at least one or more other wives, according to the latest official statistics on population trends.

Although the figure represents a drop from the 16 of every 100 married women who had co-wives in 2003, the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), 2008/2009 says Kenyan men should restrain themselves from taking more than one wife.

Polygamy means multiple spouses; polygyny means multiple wives; and polyandry means multiple husbands. Experts believe that in Kenya polygyny is one of the social practices fuelling the spread of HIV/Aids.

It also perpetuates large families, frustrating campaigns to control population growth estimated at 2.3 per cent per year. Results of last year’s national population census — now scheduled to be released next month— are expected to show that Kenya has a population of 40 million people, a number so high that it will dominate today’s World Population Day official celebrations being held in Mombasa.

“We get worried by polygamous marriages because they increase the
likelihood that co-wives will compete among themselves at having more children and end up contributing to the average number of births per women,” said Samuel Ogola, a programme officer at the National Coordinating Agency for Population and Development.

The situation, he said, was worse among less educated women, an observation confirmed in the KDHS report. It shows that educated women were less likely to practice polygamy, a practice that was common in past centuries when having more women and children was considered to be a status symbol and a source of pride for men.

Having more daughters in the past was seen as a source of wealth from the dowry paid to their families when they were married.



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