Till Divorce Do Us Part
The world’s most divorces occur in the Maldives, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Divorce is one aspect that is most frowned upon in Islam. And yet the Maldives, a country which claims to be a 100 percent Islamic state, was recently registered in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest divorce rate in the world.
Ironically, the Maldives, with its white sand beaches and clear blue waters, is one of the most soughtafter destinations for newly married couples looking for a romantic and serene getaway.
So what plagues this beautiful country that out of every two couples who tie the knot there, one ends up with a divorce? A host of reasons.
A sad fact is that the Maldives has held this inauspicious record for quite some years now. In 2000, 3829 marriages and 1,928 divorces were registered in the country. In 2002, the divorce rate was 32 percent which increased to 52.38 percent in 2012.
So, while the phenomenon has existed for over a decade, it was the country’s entry into the Guinness Book of World Records that finally jolted the nation out of its indifference towards the issue and triggered a heated debate on the reasons and factors that contribute to so many divorces.
Although a proper study to determine the causes is yet to be undertaken, yet one of the main and mutually agreed upon reasons for the high divorce rate is cited as the ease with which one can end a marriage in the Maldives.
All that the country’s law, a combination of common law and Shariah, requires of a man wishing to part with his wife is to say the words ‘I divorce you’ three times. However, if a woman wishes to seek divorce, she has to file a case in the court and is granted divorce only if the judge finds her reasons valid enough. There is also a provision for revoking the divorce within three months but hardly any couple uses it.
The easy divorce laws come in handy in the peculiar social setting of the country. For people to have any kind of sexual relationship outside marriage is considered a sin and is a crime in the Maldives. Therefore, to legalize their relationship, most couples – the majority of them barely out of their teens – prefer to get married.
The practice is encouraged by parents who would rather see their children, as young as 15-year-old in some cases, getting married rather than indulging in illicit relations. The statistics released by the Department of National Planning of the Maldives show that the majority of people in the country get married between 20 and 24 years of age.
Subsequently, these young people who end up tying the knot find it difficult to fulfill the financial and
emotional obligations of a married life. They are not stable financially and hence cannot meet the monetary needs of their family. Also, they are not mature enough to deal with the stresses and strains of a marital relationship.
The rampant poverty in the country is also a major factor driving the rising divorce rate. The Maldives suffers from a severe housing crisis. Due to lack of resources and proper housing facilities, people are forced to live in small quarters or they share their homes with other families. There are instances of families comprising as many as eight members living in a single room.
There is no concept of privacy and such close proximity often leads to meddling in each others' affairs. This results in bickering and long-drawn family feuds. For couples going through such problems, the easiest and hasslefree way out is getting a divorce. The highest divorce rate is recorded in the age group of 25-29 years.
Here, the unique social milieu of the Maldives again comes into play. While divorce is much of a social taboo in almost all South Asian countries and divorcees, especially women, are treated with disdain, no such hangups exist in the Maldives. Divorces and remarriages are considered a part of life and the rules are the same for both men and women. According to a research report, Maldivian women marry an average of four times while it is common for Maldivians to divorce three to six times.
Leena, who is in her late twenties, has married twice since her divorce from her first husband 10 years ago. She got married at the age of 18 to her boyfriend and was divorced a month later. She has a child from her third marriage and does not regret her decisions. “It’s an alarming trend, no doubt. But people often ignore the plus side. The ease in getting a divorce and the absence of any social stigma attached to the concept of divorce and remarriage ensures that couples do not stay in an abusive relationship,” she says.
Another factor that may have not contributed directly to the increase in the divorce rate but serves as a safety net for couples planning to get a divorce is the single-parent support system of the country. According to this system, single mothers who do not get child support from their children’s fathers get a fixed monthly stipend. The grant provides them with a steady income, saving them from worrying about how they will raise their children after separating from their husbands.
Regardless, there are growing concerns about the increase in the divorce rate as it directly affects the social structure of the Maldivian society. When a couple separates, it’s their children who are affected the most. Children raised in broken families often do not get the care they deserve and are neglected by their parents. Due to the lack of parental oversight, they tend to lose interest in their studies and drop out of school. Such children are also more prone to drugs and other unhealthy activities.
A national drug use survey conducted in 2013 in collaboration with the UNODC, found that there are an estimated 7,500 drug users in the Maldives and the majority of them are young people in the age bracket of 15-24 years.
These disturbing indicators call for urgent measures. The government of the Maldives has taken some steps in the past to bring down the divorce rate. To mitigate the high divorce rate and to ensure that couples seek reconciliation before obtaining a divorce, a fine of MVR5000 was imposed on couples seeking divorce through courts. However, only 14 couples sought reconciliation in 2013.
Late as it may be, the government and the people of the Maldives have realized the seriousness of the problem and studies are being carried out to find the actual reasons for the trend. The sooner it is done the better as the increasing number of divorces is highly detrimental to the social structure of the country.