SHARJAH // About half of divorced couples in the UAE were married to a relative and nearly 70 per cent lived near their extended family, according to an academic study.
"Outside interference can be one of the most influential factors for marriage and divorce," said Dr Fakir al Gharaibeh, an assistant professor of sociology at Sharjah University. He was presenting preliminary results of the study to the Counselling Arabia conference at Sharjah Higher Colleges of Technology.
The survey found that a high percentage of divorces involved couples with children, and that almost half these children demonstrated side-effects including poorer performance at school and eating disorders.
Among couples that broke up, almost half did so within a year of marriage, and most divorced women were more highly educated than their partners.
When completed, the study will have surveyed 2,000 divorced Emirati women. So far, 700 respondents have been surveyed and the results from 200 women collated.
The study sought to highlight the underlying causes of divorce and its impact on the family, Dr al Gharaibeh said. Complete results will be announced in September.
Women and children were often the victims of divorce, he said. "If a woman is affected, by default her children will be affected, because she is the one that raises them. This affects the community because it is these children who will comprise our future generation."
According to marriage court records in the UAE, 44 per cent of divorced couples separated within a year of marriage. Most divorces involved men between the ages of 25 and 35.
Dr al Gharaibeh said the statistics revealed a lack of understanding of marriage.
"Many of these couples who are marrying at such a young age don't have a full grasp of what marriage entails," he said. "Youth in the UAE need more explanation about the aims and responsibilities of marriage."
The high divorce rate among younger couples was particularly worrying. "This is very dangerous, because it most likely means that young children are involved," Dr al Gharaibeh said.
The study showed that 17 per cent of divorced couples had sons and 22 per cent had daughters aged between 3 and 5. Dr al Gharaibeh said these children were most susceptible to the negative impacts of divorce.
The study showed that 94 per cent of the women surveyed had sons and a quarter had daughters between 12 and 18.
"Divorce has a huge impact on children in this age bracket because they are aware of the entire experience," he said. "Many will not be motivated to marry in the future."
In addition to complications in forming later relationships, children could suffer from mental, physical and social repercussions, Dr al Gharaibeh said.
The study showed that among children of divorced parents, 45 per cent demonstrated low academic performance and social withdrawal, while almost one third had eating disorders.
Reasons behind divorce also varied, with lack of communication and domestic violence being among the most commonly cited.
The social repercussions faced by women as a result of divorce were much harsher than those faced by men, Dr al Gharaibeh said - one of the reasons the study focused on women's perspective.
"If a woman is marrying a divorced man, there are few questions asked," he said. "However, if it's the other way around, there are many questions raised - why was she divorced, what happened, the family will want details on the history of her first marriage."
According to the findings, most divorced women are more educated than their former partners.
"This is because education gives you a different perspective on life," Dr al Gharaibeh said.
"Education gives women autonomy, and an awareness of her rights. She understands her value and is no longer afraid of the stigma of being divorced."
Marriage workshops and counselling before tying the knot could be a potential solution, Dr al Gharaibeh said.
"When people marry, they need to know what they are getting into - the commitments required," he said. "They also must not rush into divorce. They need to understand the consequences, and most importantly, its effect on their children."