Recent Muslim marriages buck divorce trend

WHILE divorce rates among recent marriages, in general, have been rising, those involving recent Muslim marriages, before the fifth year of marriage, have bucked the trend.

These divorce rates decreased from 14 per cent for the cohort that married in 2003 to 11.4 per cent for the 2008 cohort, according to findings from a study by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

In comparison, divorce rates before the fifth marriage anniversary for non-Muslim couples have remained about the same for the 2003 and 2008 cohorts, at 5.1 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively.

The lower divorce rates for recent Muslim marriages may be a result of community initiatives in marriage preparation, as well as enrichment and counselling for Muslim couples, said the MSF in a statement yesterday.

Muslim couples looking to split up have to attend a mandatory counselling programme under the Syariah Court.

Since the programme started in 2004, more than 27,000 couples have taken part.

About 44 per cent of them changed their minds about breaking up after the counselling.

Marriage preparation programmes for Muslim couples have also been enhanced to address the needs of different types of marriages, including that of young couples and remarriages.

There are also support programmes for Muslim newly-wed couples and new parents to help them manage transitions and challenges in marriage, as well as public education efforts via print media, TV and radio dramas.

Mr Mohd Ali Mahmood, senior director of social services at voluntary welfare group PPIS, agreed that the community initiatives have helped.

He said marriage preparation programmes for minor couples, in which one of the partners is below 21, and the mandatory counselling programme for Muslim couples seeking divorce have helped.

"It is important that minor couples get the help they need, as they may lack the resources to make good decisions," he said.

He recounted a case of how a couple seeking divorce changed their minds after he counselled them about three years ago.

The wife felt that her husband was not fulfilling his role as a father and not playing with their child at all.

After counselling, they learnt the husband did not play with his child as he grew up in a family where he did not experience such love from his parents too.

"As women get more educated, they are less dependent on their husbands and more likely to consider divorce," Mr Mohd Ali said.

The husband was later willing to make amends and learnt to be a better parent.

Mr Mohd Ali added: "After couples get counselled, they realise that there are actually many things at stake.

"It's not just a dissolution of a marriage; it's the dissolution of a family with children."

PRISCILLA GOY