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The Rise of Divorce – Marriage Bond Broken – By Dr. Ramsha Zafar

By Dr. Ramsha Zafar
Freelance Writer

The Rise Of Divorce in Pakistan
پاکستان میں طلاق کا عروج
पाकिस्तान में तलाक का बढ़ना
Marriage Bond Broken

Conflicts in a relationship are inevitable—some might make it work; on the other hand, others might choose to part ways. The same goes with marriage: It can be wonderful, but it can also be complicated, challenging, and even ugly, which leads to separation. At any given time along this path of change, you might be feeling scared, confused, angry, sad, and lonely. You might be feelinged-out, numb. And all those plucky words of chin-up encouragement, or flat-lining platitudes friends and family continue to proffer are falling on your deaf and numb and pained ears. Other times our reaction to another person’s words can take us by surprise. We might find ourselves struck by a truth we feel so deeply, so innately, that we could never express it in words.

“There is no such thing as a “broken family.” Family is family, and is not determined by marriage certificates, divorce papers, and adoption documents. Families are made in the heart. The only time family becomes null is when those ties in the heart are cut. If you cut those ties, those people are not your family. If you make those ties, those people are your family. And if you hate those ties, those people will still be your family because whatever you hate will always be with you.” 

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The Rise of Divorce in Pakistan 

More women in Pakistan are choosing to leave their marriages, despite divorce remaining a complicated social taboo in the country’s conservative culture. Women’s rights activists say the increase comes as women in the Islamic nation’s patriarchal society are becoming more empowered and are less willing to settle for abusive marriages. In Pakistan, divorce is not monitored by any dedicated agency and rules are dictated by Sharia or Islamic law.

More women are aware that they can leave marriages for reasons other than physical abuse, including psychological abuse or simply not getting anything” out of a marriage. Women know about their rights and are more independent.

In the South Asian country, a woman cannot “file for divorce” but rather has the right to dissolve a marriage under Sharia without the consent of her husband. This is called a “khula” and is arbitrated by a family court. There are several reasons for which a wife can seek a dissolution of marriage under khula. These include spousal abuse, the husband leaving or a husband’s mental health issues. Although official rates of women seeking to dissolve their marriages aren’t recorded, the number of khulas seems to be rising.

Pakistan’s marriage culture

In Pakistan, marriages by choice are called “love marriages.” However, arranged marriages are very common in the South Asian country. Couples signing a marriage contract before living together is also common.

Even though we were technically married for a year, we were still technically just dating because we still didn’t live together. It was only after living together that differences came out.

Marriage, in almost every culture, is considered a sacred bond between spouses and is a social and legal relationship. Indeed, the desire for strong and lasting family bonds remains a fundamental aspect of human nature, especially during times of uncertainty. However, navigating and sustaining these relationships has become increasingly challenging in the face of various external pressures and changing social dynamics. When these relationships break down, the consequences are far-reaching, extending beyond the immediate parties involved and affecting the broader fabric of society.

Divorce is an emotionally taxing life event that can induce symptoms of depression in both adults and children directly affected by it. In the context of Islamic marriage, when a man initiates the dissolution of marriage by uttering “talaaq” to his wife, it is termed as divorce. Conversely, when the termination of the marriage happens through mutual agreement between the husband and wife, typically at the request of the latter, it is known as “khulah.”

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Divorce rates are witnessing escalations worldwide. In Pakistan, divorce is primarily governed by the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act 1939 (amended in 1961) and the Family Courts Act 1964. The divorce rate in the country has been gradually increasing, following global trends. Over one and a half years leading to June 2020, a total of 14,943 cases were filed, resulting in 4,752 divorces, affecting around 2,000 women and 2,100 children.

The rise of divorce in Pakistan is a multifaceted phenomenon influenced by various social, cultural, economic and legal factors. While divorce was traditionally stigmatized in Pakistani society, changing societal norms, increased urbanization, economic pressures, and evolving legal frameworks have contributed to a notable increase in divorce rates.

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The rate of divorce tends to be higher in first marriages, partly due to factors related to attraction. Initially, couples in first marriages may be drawn together by romantic ideals or societal expectations. However, as the relationship progresses, differences in expectations, personalities, or goals may emerge, leading to disillusionment and conflict. This mismatch in attraction or compatibility can escalate over time, contributing to marital dissatisfaction and ultimately divorce. Additionally, individuals entering their first marriage may have limited experience in understanding their own needs and desires, leading to difficulties in maintaining long-term attraction and intimacy. Financial strain, lack of support networks, and unrealistic expectations further compound these challenges. Despite these trends, the dynamics of attraction are complex, and individual circumstances greatly influence marital outcomes.

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Factors Contribute Towards Divorce

Trust Deficit

A significant contributing factor to the rise in divorce rates in Pakistan is the lack of trust, particularly among the working class, where both husbands and wives work. Extended work hours at the office or on the job cause a minimal lack of trust, which manifests as infidelity (whether confirmed or not). Relationships cannot function without trust, which is the foundation of any successful partnership. The same holds for marriage-based relationships.

Forced Marriages

The most serious disadvantage of forced marriage is a divorce in which the girl or boy did not want to marry a certain individual but was coerced into it by their family. These forced marriages do not endure long. Either the guy or the girl has other interests, which overshadow everything else and hurt the marriage, leading to separation or divorce. Some individuals also think that love marriages result in more divorces than planned ones.

Illiteracy

Illiteracy is a significant factor contributing to divorce in Pakistan. Communication breakdowns, often stemming from limited literacy skills, hinder the effective expression of needs and resolution of conflicts within marriages. Illiterate individuals, particularly women, face restricted employment opportunities, leading to financial dependence and power imbalances that strain relationships. Traditional gender roles exacerbate inequalities, with women confined to caregiving roles and men expecting obedience. Conflict resolution skills, typically acquired through education, are lacking among illiterate individuals, escalating issues and eroding marital bonds over time.

Temperamental Incompatibility

Another significant reason for divorce in Pakistan is the presence of temperamental incompatibility, where couples have divergent interests, life perspectives, and beliefs, leading to disharmony in their lifestyles and mental compatibility, ultimately lacking mutual attraction.

Domestic violence

Extramarital Affair 

Extramarital relationships, which often stem from attraction to someone other than one’s spouse, introduce a significant strain on the marital relationship. The initial attraction to a new partner can lead to emotional and physical distance between spouses as attention and affection are diverted elsewhere. This diversion undermines the trust and intimacy that are crucial for a healthy marriage. The discovery or suspicion of infidelity often undermines the foundation of the marriage, leading to irreparable damage and the eventual breakdown of the relationship.

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Changing Societal Norms

Traditionally, Pakistani society upheld strong family values and emphasized the sanctity of marriage. However, with globalization and exposure to Western cultures through media and the internet, there has been a gradual shift in attitudes toward marriage and divorce. Younger generations are increasingly prioritizing individual happiness and personal fulfillment over familial obligations, leading to a more accepting attitude toward divorce.

Women Empowerment

Women in Pakistan are now more educated and economically independent than in previous generations. This empowerment has provided women with the confidence and means to seek divorce in situations of abuse, neglect, or unhappiness in marriage. Additionally, legal reforms have made it easier for women to initiate divorce proceedings and secure their rights in matrimonial disputes.

Urbanization and Migration

The rapid urbanization of Pakistan has led to significant social changes, including shifts in family structures and dynamics. Urban areas tend to be more cosmopolitan and liberal compared to rural regions, leading to greater acceptance of divorce as a viable option for individuals facing marital discord. Moreover, migration from rural to urban areas often exposes individuals to different value systems, contributing to the normalization of divorce.

Economic Pressures

Economic strain which includes unemployment, poverty, and financial instability can create immense stress within relationships, leading to dissatisfaction and conflict. Couples facing financial difficulties may find it challenging to maintain the level of attraction and intimacy necessary for a healthy marriage. Financial instability often exacerbates existing issues, as couples struggle to meet basic needs and fulfill their responsibilities. Moreover, the societal pressure to provide financially can strain traditional gender roles, leading to power imbalances and dissatisfaction within the relationship. Additionally, financial instability may hinder opportunities for couples to engage in activities that foster connection and romance, further eroding the attraction between partners and leading to irreconcilable differences and eventual separation.

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Dowry

Dowry, while traditionally perceived as a symbol of financial security and social status, often becomes a source of tension within marriages in Pakistan. The practice of dowry involves the transfer of wealth or assets from the bride’s family to the groom’s family, and its presence can influence the initial attraction between partners. In some cases, individuals may be drawn to prospective spouses based on the perceived value of the dowry, rather than genuine compatibility or affection. However, once married, conflicts related to dowry expectations and demands can arise, undermining the foundation of attraction and intimacy within the relationship. Financial pressures stemming from dowry obligations can strain the marital bond. Moreover, disputes over dowry payments can escalate into larger issues, fueling marital discord and contributing to the decision to divorce. Despite efforts to address dowry-related conflicts, its presence continues to challenge the stability of marriages in Pakistan, highlighting the need for cultural and legal reforms to mitigate its adverse effects on marital relationships and attraction between partners.

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Infertility

In a society where traditional gender roles and familial expectations are deeply ingrained, the inability to conceive can be especially distressing. Couples facing infertility often endure emotional turmoil, societal pressure, and familial scrutiny. In Pakistan, where parenthood is highly valued and considered a fundamental aspect of marriage, the inability to conceive can challenge cultural norms and expectations. The absence of children can also impact familial dynamics and inheritance rights, particularly in patriarchal societies. In many cases, the quest for parenthood can become all-consuming, overshadowing other aspects of the relationship and leading to increased marital discord. Despite medical advancements offering fertility treatments, the financial burden and emotional toll of such interventions may further exacerbate marital strain. Ultimately, if couples cannot navigate these challenges together or find mutual support and understanding, infertility can become an insurmountable obstacle, leading to the dissolution of the marriage.

No Male Child

In Pakistan, the preference for male children is deeply ingrained in cultural and societal norms, and the absence of a male child can significantly impact marriages, often leading to divorce. The desire for a male heir stems from cultural beliefs surrounding lineage, inheritance, and the perpetuation of the family name. When a couple fails to conceive a male child, it can lead to massive pressure and disappointment, particularly from extended family members who may view the situation as a failure on the part of the wife. Additionally, societal expectations place a heavy burden on women to bear sons, and their inability to fulfill this expectation can lead to feelings of inadequacy and stigma within the marriage. Moreover, without a male heir, couples may face challenges in securing their family’s social status and financial security, further exacerbating marital tensions. Ultimately, the societal pressure and emotional distress resulting from the absence of a male child can contribute to marital dissatisfaction and divorce, highlighting the entrenched gender biases and cultural pressures faced by couples in Pakistan.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a significant contributor to the high divorce rate in Pakistan, manifesting in various forms such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and prescription drug misuse. Addiction can consume one’s thoughts, actions, and resources, leaving little room for fulfilling obligations to a spouse or family. The pursuit of obtaining and using substances often takes precedence over familial duties, leading to neglect, broken promises, and financial strain. As addiction progresses, individuals may become unreliable, unable to maintain employment, and prone to erratic behavior, further destabilizing their relationships and resulting in a toxic environment marked by distrust and communication breakdowns, all of which destroy the foundation of a marriage. Moreover, cultural stigmas surrounding addiction often deter individuals from seeking help, exacerbating marital issues. The cycle of substance abuse perpetuates a cycle of dysfunction within families, further exacerbating the divorce rate.

Religious Differences

In Pakistan, where religion plays a central role in both individual identity and societal norms, religious differences can be a potent reason for divorce. With Islam as the dominant faith, interfaith marriages often encounter profound challenges. These disparities extend beyond mere rituals or practices; they delve into fundamental beliefs, values, and cultural expectations. Families, deeply entrenched in religious traditions, may exert immense pressure on couples to either resolve their religious disparities or dissolve the marriage, fearing societal judgment or dishonor. Moreover, navigating the complexities of legal matters, such as inheritance and child custody, under Islamic law can exacerbate tensions stemming from religious differences.

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Legal Reforms

Changes in Pakistan’s legal framework, particularly in family laws, have made divorce more accessible and less stigmatized. Reforms such as the passage of the Family Courts Act and the introduction of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms aim to expedite divorce proceedings and provide equitable solutions for couples. Additionally, legal aid programs and women’s rights advocacy have empowered individuals, especially women, to assert their rights and seek legal recourse in cases of marital dissatisfaction or abuse.

Social Stigma Reduction

While divorce still carries some social stigma in Pakistani society, particularly for women, attitudes are gradually evolving. Increased awareness campaigns, media representation, and advocacy efforts have contributed to reducing the stigma associated with divorce. As a result, individuals may feel more comfortable seeking divorce as a solution to marital problems without fear of social exclusion.

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Social Media

Modern times have also seen social media impacting relationships. Unrealistic expectations are on the rise, as people strive for perfection in their partners, and this heightened demand can lead to dissatisfaction and eventually divorce.

Consequences of Divorce

The breakdown of family relationships can have profound ripple effects, impacting not only the aggrieved parties but also engulfing the entire society in several ways:

Disruption of Social Support Networks

Family units often serve as primary sources of emotional support, stability, and guidance. When relationships break down, individuals may lose this crucial support system, leaving them vulnerable to emotional distress, loneliness, and feelings of isolation. This disruption can extend to children, who rely heavily on familial support for their emotional and psychological development.

Economic Strain

Divorce or family breakdowns can lead to significant financial strain, particularly for individuals who are economically dependent on their partners. Legal fees, division of assets, and ongoing financial support obligations can exacerbate financial instability for both parties involved. This economic strain can have ripple effects on the broader economy, affecting consumer spending, housing markets, and social welfare systems.

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Impact on Children

Children often bear the brunt of familial discord and separation. Witnessing parental conflict or experiencing the dissolution of their parents’ relationship can have lasting psychological and emotional effects on children, including increased risk of anxiety, depression, academic difficulties, and behavioral problems. These effects can manifest well into adulthood, influencing future relationships and overall well-being.

Social Fabric and Community Cohesion

Strong family bonds contribute to the social fabric and cohesion of communities. When families experience breakdowns, it can lead to fragmentation within communities, eroding trust, and social capital. This breakdown of community cohesion can have implications for social stability, civic engagement, and collective resilience in the face of challenges.

Psychological Impact on Individuals

The breakdown of family relationships can have a profound psychological impact on individuals, leading to feelings of grief, loss, and identity crisis. Individuals may struggle to cope with the emotional fallout of divorce or separation, grappling with issues such as self-esteem, trust, and existential meaning. This psychological distress can hinder personal growth and hinder individuals’ ability to form healthy relationships in the future.

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Recommendations to address the rising divorce rate in Pakistan

Establishment of Marriage Counseling Institutes

Both government and private organizations should establish marriage counseling institutes to assist couples in managing psychological issues and resolving conflicts peacefully.

Stricter Divorce Laws

The government should consider revising divorce laws to discourage divorce over trivial matters, promoting reconciliation and communication between spouses.

Education on Marriage

Integrate a comprehensive chapter on marriage into the curriculum at the intermediate level, educating students on Islamic principles of marriage and the rights and responsibilities of spouses, aiming to foster positive attitudes towards marriage.

Economic Empowerment of Women

Provide opportunities for women to generate income from home through online work, particularly in households facing financial challenges. Both private and government sectors can support such initiatives, empowering women economically and reducing marital conflicts arising from financial stress.

Minimize In-Law Interference

Encourage in-laws to refrain from interfering in the affairs of married couples, as such interference often leads to misunderstandings and eventual separation. Promoting boundaries and respect within extended families can help preserve marital harmony.

Implementing these measures can contribute to strengthening marriages, reducing divorce rates, and fostering healthier family dynamics in Pakistan.

Conclusion

The rising divorce rates in Pakistan underscore the need for greater awareness, support, and intervention to address underlying issues within marriages. While divorce may offer a solution in certain circumstances, its repercussions extend far beyond the couple involved, impacting individuals, families, and society at large. By promoting understanding, empathy, and proactive measures, Pakistani society can strive towards fostering stronger familial bonds by Islamic teachings.

Additionally, gender inequality and domestic violence are deeply concerning issues contributing to divorce rates. Women face unequal treatment within their marriages and families, and some even endure domestic violence, which tragically leads to separation and divorce.

To address this rising trend, it’s essential to prioritize understanding and respect before entering into marriage. True love should be based on genuine understanding, not just fleeting attraction. Respecting each other’s aspirations, dreams, and opinions is paramount in maintaining a healthy and long-lasting relationship.

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