Thursday, 17 September 2015

The effect of polygamy on children


Polygamy is the union of a man and more than one woman or a woman  and more than one man which spans into a large family of children and their various mothers or fathers, as the case may be. There are three main forms of polygamous relationships which include: polygyny, polyandry, and polygynandry. In polygyny, (by far the most common form of polygamy) one man may marry a number of wives. In polyandry, one wife has two or more husbands but this form of polygamy is extremely unusual, and often takes the form of two brothers marrying the same woman while in polygynandry, two or more wives marry two or more husbands. 
Polygamy was accepted or even preferred in three/fourths of preindustrial traditional societies though it was seldom practiced by the commoners or lower classes. It tended to occur most frequently in societies where the route to winning wealth and political power was through attracting followers or having lots of sons to hunt for the family head or defend the family’s land. So a man might marry several wives and have them produce textiles he could trade, or grow food for elaborate feasts he could use to put poorer members of community in debt. 

In other cases, wealthy men accumulated many wives to produce more sons. It was very common for kings and other royalties to have many wives, both as a way to make alliances with other states or noble families and to ensure that they would have plenty of heirs. 

Polygamy affects the well-being of children. Because the polygamous wives tend to be younger and less well educated, their children suffer in not having more mature mothers, as would be more typical of their counterparts in a monogamous society. The children suffer also from having multiple stepmothers involved in ongoing struggles with each other. Half-siblings must compete for limited resources while having weaker genetic bonds to mitigate the conflict. While these extended-family relationships could in theory be a source of support, more often they endanger children. 

In a research carried out by the University of Illinois on the impact of polygamy on children, it was discovered that polygamy had extremely harmful effects on children. Many reported being neglected by their father when he had obtained a new wife. As the number of wives and consequently the number of children grew, there were fewer resources and lesser attention or affection to go around. In cases where the father had more than 10 children from two or more wives, the children reported that he could often not recognise them, asking them to which mother they belonged when they went to ask for pocket money or school fees.

The condition also imperilled the children’s relationship with their mothers whom they saw as weak and unable to get proper attention from their fathers. Because the mother was the only parent they knew and frequently interacted with, they often held her responsible for the fact that their father was not paying attention to them.  

Much empirical work on monogamous societies indicates that higher degrees of relatedness among household members are associated with lower rates of abuse, neglect and homicide but living in the same household with genetically unrelated adults is the single biggest risk factor for abuse, neglect and homicide of children. Stepmothers are 2.4 times more likely to kill their stepchildren than birth mothers, and children living with an unrelated parent are between 15 and 77 times more likely to die “accidentally”.

Polygamous families are also more likely than monogamous families to be in poverty, since typically only one breadwinner supports numerous children. Polygamous societies also dilute the investment of fathers in their children in at least two ways. First, because marriage to other young women is still an option, a husband’s resources of time, attention, and money are diverted away from his own children and toward finding new mates. Secondly, in virtue of the greater number of children in the polygamous family, it becomes increasingly difficult to give each child sufficient time and attention. Indeed, some fathers of polygamous families have so many children that they do not even know each child’s name. This dilution of paternal investment is similar in effect to being raised by a single mother with all its attendant risk factors (especially for males). That is, drug abuse, trouble with the law, and dropping out of school.

Children from polygamous homes are psychologically and emotionally affected by their family structure because they cannot communicate freely with one another and especially, with their parents; they lack the needed love and attention from their parents especially, their fathers; resources are not evenly distributed among them and there is constant strife among their family members. This accounts for their lost of concentration in almost everything they do and their inability to freely socialise with people.

Based on these, Parents and husbands (especially those in rural areas) should be satisfied with monogamous family arrangement to forestall the damaging effects it will have on their children.

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