Polygyny and Canada's Obligations under International Human Rights Law
Rebecca J. Cook, M.P.A., J.D., J.S.D., F.R.S.C.
Faculty Chair in International Human Rights
Co-Director, International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Programme
Lisa M. Kelly, B.A., J.D. candidate
Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
. . . polygamy consists in the maintaining of conjugal relations by more than two persons. When the result of such relations is to form a single matrimonial or family entity with the spouses, this is regarded as polygamous marriage.
- International conventions, whether general or particular, establishing rules expressly recognized by the contesting states;
- International custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law;
- The general principles of law recognized by civilized nations;
- Subject to the provisions of Article 5, judicial decisions and the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations, as subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law.
eliminate all forms of discrimination against women with a view to achieving women's de jure and de facto equality with men in the enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of the rights of the woman and the child as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.
the commitment of the African States to ensure the full participation of African women as equal partners in Africa's development.
1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
It should also be noted that equality of treatment with regard to the right to marry implies that polygamy is incompatible with this principle. Polygamy violates the dignity of women. It is an inadmissible discrimination against women. Consequently, it should be definitely abolished wherever it continues to exist.
Polygamous marriage contravenes a woman's right to equality with men, and can have such serious emotional and financial consequences for her and her dependents that such marriages ought to be discouraged and prohibited. The Committee notes with concern that some States parties, whose constitutions guarantee equal rights, permit polygamous marriage in accordance with personal or customary law. This violates the constitutional rights of women, and breaches the provisions of article 5(a) of the Convention.