Coronavirus lockdown hits polygamist men in Kuwait struggling to see all wives

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The coronavirus pandemic is hampering the lives of polygamist men living in Kuwait, as they struggle to spend time with their wives in separate homes.

The Gulf state has implemented a nationwide “total” lockdown until May 30 to combat the spread of COVID-19. The order suspends all but essential private and public sector activities, and imposes a curfew monitoring the time residents are allowed outside, Agence France-Press reported.

Mask-clad residents walk in a neighborhood of Kuwait City on May 12, as authorities allowed people to exercise for two hours under a nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP)

Mask-clad residents walk in a neighborhood of Kuwait City on May 12, as authorities allowed people to exercise for two hours under a nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP)

Under the guidelines, residents are allowed to shop for food only once every six days, after electronically obtaining official permission, and can only go outside for two-hour evening walks.

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Residents must wear face masks outside their homes and those breaking any of the rules face up to three months in prison or a $16,000 fine.

For thousands of Kuwaiti men who are polygamists, the lockdown measures mean they must stick mostly to one household.

“My life has become so complicated,” Abu Othman, who has 10 children between two wives, told AFP. “I am constantly on the move between them.”

Othman’s wives live in separate homes in Al-Jahra, an area about 25 miles west of Kuwait City.

Traditional Islamic jurisprudence allows Muslim men to marry more than one woman – a custom initially meant to ensure the welfare of widows and orphans, AFP reported. A strict requirement is that men treat all their wives equally and fairly.

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The Gulf state had one of the highest rates of polygamy in the region between 2010 and 2015, with more than 8 percent of marriages, a study by the Doha International Family Institute showed.

In response to appeals by the hundreds of polygamists in Kuwait, authorities on Sunday introduced electronic permits to married men with multiple wives that will allow for one-hour visits twice a week.

According to AFP, Kuwait’s Islamic scholars have attempted to clarify marriage rules amid the lockdown.

Ahmad al-Kurdi, a member of the Fatwa Committee at Kuwait's Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, told Kuwait's Al-Rai newspaper that a polygamist who is forced to live at one of his wife’s homes must give the other – or others – the choice of accepting it or agreeing to a divorce.

Meanwhile, Issa Zeki, another committee member, told the newspaper that a man can “make it up” to his other wives by spending more nights at their homes once the restrictions are lifted.

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Kuwait has recorded more than 16,000 positive coronavirus cases and at least 121 deaths attributed to the virus.