Till Di­vorce Do Us Part

The world’s most di­vorces oc­cur in the Mal­dives, ac­cord­ing to the Guin­ness Book of World Records.

Southasia - - MARRIAGE MALDIVES - By Jave­ria Shakil The writer is as­sis­tant edi­tor at SouthAsia. She fo­cuses on is­sues of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial in­ter­est.

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.

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