According to administrative data of the Saudi Ministry of Justice, the total number of marriage contracts in Saudi Arabia reached 150,117 in 2020, increasing by 8.9% compared to 2019. The total number of divorces reached 57,595 in 2020, increasing by 12.7% from 2019. There are expectations that with the confines of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of divorces for this year will also show an increase.
Elsewhere regionally, the rate of divorce throughout the GCC is increasing to levels that are certain to alarm most social welfare organisations in each of the member states. From Kuwait to Oman, this phenomenon has picked up pace in the last three decades to very distressing levels.
In a discussion the other day with an official at a Social Services NGO that aims to work out conflicts between marital partners and preserve marital unions, I brought up the alarming rate of divorces among the young, especially those below the age of 25. Hiba, a volunteer at a women’s charitable organisation, who was a guest speaker is a witness first-hand to the trials of such break-ups and at such an early age.
“Quite often the girls have barely reached past teen-hood when these separations take place. And already weighed down with one or two toddlers, what are these young mothers to do and with no father around? Some are fortunate to return to their parents’ homes, but others are not so lucky. I see enough of it and frankly, it alarms me.”
I had to agree that there probably existed a multitude of reasons for such sorry events, but I can’t help feeling that it is often the actions of supposedly more mature adult parents that leads to such unfortunate events.
Who is to blame?
Take for example the much-publicised weddings en masse sponsored by certain organisations to marry off these kids, an event that is usually held every summer. While their intent may be good, these societies through donations and charities focus on the single aim of getting the young and financially destitute married.
Judging by published numbers, the wedding day is their feather in the cap. But what follows after that? Where are the financial or social means to support and sustain such a union? This practice is not unique to Saudi Arabia. It happens in other Islamic countries, with goodwill social organisations sponsoring mass weddings and celebrations. Unfortunately, very little has been studied about the longevity of such unions. However, with rising divorce rates, one has to wonder how many of such unions have fallen.
Then again, before considering marriage, has the young man the means to prepare for his new family? Times are not as easy as before. Does he have the financial prospect to maintain a family? Does he have the maturity and stability to live up to his new commitments? Do the societies that encourage such unions ever 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 harsh. That is one reason why we see more and more young males taking this easy road out. They are just not ready to handle being weighed down with this new set of responsibilities. The sufferings of the young wife and the little offspring left behind to fend for themselves may not put much of a dent in their conscience.
Divorce and commitment
Until recently there were no laws in the books to enforce paying alimony or child support. It was just accepted. But left to the whims of errant fathers and ex-husbands, such financial commitments were rarely met. The expectations that the divorced bride would be taken care of by her ageing parents, some living on limited means themselves was an extra hardship that added to the family’s misery.
For those who happen to be more financially fortunate, marriage in some cases has become a frivolous commitment. Hardly a month goes by without hearing of a dissolution of marriage of a recently wed society couple.
I’ll tell you why. The parents of the boy usually foot the entire bill, from paying the sizeable dowry to wedding parties, celebrations, etc. And six months down the road, the boy has a change of heart, and all this endeavour goes down the drain. He doesn’t stand to lose much except for what his parents forked out. But if each prospective groom busted his knuckles and worked hard and saved enough to pay for what lies ahead, then one can be sure that the path would be sweeter with all with his hard-earned money.
It is the divorced woman who is left to bear the cross so to speak and while the social stigma today of labelling a divorcee is not as harsh as in the past, the hardships do manifest themselves in many ways. Should a society stand by and allow it to continue?
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena