At a luncheon the other day, a social scientist brought up the alarming rate of divorces among the young, especially those below the age of 25, in Saudi Arabia. A volunteer at a women’s charitable organisation, she was a witness first-hand to the trials of such break-ups and at such early stages in life. And the numbers are not encouraging.
The number of divorce cases in Saudi Arabia has exponentially grown in recent years. According to Saudi Open Data, 35,000 divorce cases were reported in 2015 and 40,000 in 2016. Statistics released by the Justice Ministry indicate that the number of divorce cases handled by courts across the country reached 53,675 in 2017. But such break-ups are not confined to the kingdom alone. Countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are reporting an upward swing in the number of marriages breaking up.
According to the UAE Statistics Centre, 1,922 divorce cases were recorded in 2016 as compared to 1,813 the previous year, while just 5,892 couples got married as compared to 6,037 in the same comparison period. Moreover, more than 50 per cent of failed marriages did not last beyond three years, whereas 28 per cent of marriages did not make it past the first year before splitting up.
Statistics released by Kuwait’s Ministry of Justice in 2017 revealed that around 60 per cent of marriages in the country had ended in divorce. The report also revealed that there has been a decrease in the number of marriages, as well as an increase in divorces.
In Qatar, statistics revealed that the divorce rate increased by 71 per cent over a 15-year period. Other GCC countries reported similar trends, lending weight to the argument that this is becoming a matter of national concern and needs to be addressed with more vigour.
Quite often, the girls go barely past their teens when these separations take place. And already weighed down with one or two toddlers, how will these young mothers manage with no father around?
Reasons for divorces include infidelity, poor or lack of communication, job loss or financial strain, social media, religious and cultural differences and unrealistic expectations. High expectations like eternally blissful life, loving treatment from spouses and expensive lifestyles quickly lead to disillusionment and many couples end up taking the divorce route.
I can’t help feeling that it is often the actions of adults that leads to such unfortunate events. Take for example the much-publicised en masse weddings sponsored by certain charitable organisations — an event that is usually held every summer. The intention behind such exercises is honest. These societies, through donations and charities, focus on getting the young and financially destitute married off. But where are the financial or social means to support and sustain such unions? That is why I am against this concept of en masse weddings.
Does the young man have the means to support his new family? Does he have a stable job and a secure housing? Does he have the maturity and stability to live up to his new commitments? Do these societies who encourage such unions ever revisit and check up on the harmony of the newly-weds?
More often than not, after all the wedding hoopla, reality sets in, and it is often too harsh. That is one reason why we see more and more of the young males taking this easy route of divorce. They are just not ready to handle being weighed down with this new set of responsibilities. The sufferings of the young bride and the off-springs may not put much of a dent in their conscience.
Among the more financially fortunate, marriage does often become a frivolous commitment. The parents of the groom usually foot the entire bill, from paying a sizeable dowry to hosting wedding parties and celebrations. But barely six months down the road, the groom has a change of heart, and all this endeavour goes down the drain.
Perhaps one way to curb such tendencies would be to let a man work and save enough before he gets married. Let him think hard. And only if and when he is sure that he is ready to get married, should he be allowed to tie the nuptial knot. Sure, a bit of assistance won’t hurt, but the bulk of the expenses should be shouldered by him.
The newly-married couple has to know each other and accept each other for what they are, without subjecting each other to personality changes. They should also be more tolerant about accepting family advice when tensions arise. They must discuss any discord openly and honestly and address them in a mature way without harming the self-esteem of the partner. In some cases, marriage counselling by psychologists or other experts can be helpful.
Parents must play their part, too, by drumming into the heads of the young ones the sanctity of marriage and how to prepare for a long and loving union.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena