THE government must make the registration of all religious marriages compulsory to stop women suffering abuse and discrimination, a new report has warned.
Researchers at Civitas, a social policy think tank, said substantial numbers of Muslim women in the UK are in unregistered religious marriages, which leaves them vulnerable to being left destitute with no financial assets or property if their husband divorces them.
The report states many women do not realise they don’t have legal protections and marital rights due to not registering their marriage after a religious ceremony.
Researchers warn the “asymmetric nature” of polygamous marriages and Islamic divorce – which permits the man to instantaneously divorce his wife but makes it far more difficult for the woman to initiate divorce proceedings – puts wives at risk.
Emma Webb, the report’s author, said: “While successive governments have failed to address this well-known problem, despite calls from Muslim women activists and the international bodies, everyday women continue to suffer horribly because of completely unjustifiable shortcomings in our legislation.
The report calls for current legislation to be overhauled so the registration of all religious marriages in England and Wales is compulsory – with researchers arguing this could reduce the prevalence of unregistered polygamous unions which damage “women’s rights and mental health”.
A bid to make religious marriages legally binding in the UK was rejected by judges in February – dashing the hopes of campaigners who warned women are left penniless with no support after the break-up of sharia unions.