Nearly 187,000 women in Turkey, a candidate country for EU membership, are in polygamous marriages despite the practice being illegal in the country, a report has revealed.
Polygamy is particularly common in the Kurdish south-east, where second wives are married in religious or cultural ceremonies and thus have little legal protection, the study claims.
It found that men in polygamous marriages often seek a second wife if the first one is unable to bear them a child, particularly a male one, Turkish daily Hürriyet reported.
The study looked at the pressures placed on women in the country due to gender inequality, including underage marriage, the paying of 'bridewealth' and a preference for sons over daughters.
Carried out by ?lknur Yüksel Kaptano?lu and Banu Ergöçmen, academics at Hacettepe University in Ankara, the study was presented to Turkey's parliamentary committee on equal opportunities last week.
The researchers found that around seven million couples – in a country of 77 million – had an arranged marriage and almost 5.5 million women were wed by eighteen, the legal age for marriage in the secular but overwhelmingly Muslim country.
Turkish President Abdullah Gül married his wife when she was just fifteen.
Bridewealth – money paid by the groom or his family – was also requested for over two million women, they claim.
Turkey, which has been an EU candidate country since 1987 and opened membership talks in 2005, has been taking steps on gender equality and women's rights to improve its prospects of joining the bloc.
In September, the ruling AK Party pushed through a number of constitutional changes, including reforms towards positive discrimination measures for women and children. Feminist groups say that a lot more needs to be done, however.
In its 2010 report on Turkey's EU progress, the European Commission lists honour killings, early and forced marriages and domestic violence as serious problems – but makes no mention of polygamy.
Asked by EURACTIV why it did not feature on the list, the Commission replied just that "Turkey's own legislation prohibits polygamy and therefore it is expected that it is implemented consistently across the country".
Kader Sevinç, EU representative for the opposition Republican People's Party, said the polygamy trend in Turkey violated women's rights and was a ''serious concern'' for Ankara's European aspirations.
In their report, Kaptano?lu and Ergöçmen call for higher female participation in education, the labour force and politics in order to help combat discrimination, Hürriyet reported.