DUBAI // More than 800 couples have been able to start married life this year by reducing the burden of debt a wedding can carry thanks to the Marriage Fund.
The initiative grants Dh70,000 to bridegrooms - traditionally responsible for bearing the cost of the wedding - who meet the criteria. So far, 177 men have received the full grant of Dh70,000, while 641 have received the first instalment of Dh40,000.
"The purpose behind this grant is to help young couples bear the burdens and cost of marriage," said Habiba Essa, the acting general manager of the Marriage Fund.
"The grant will also help to encourage citizen-to-citizen marriages, as the condition of the grant is that the applicant must be married to a compatriot, otherwise the grant is not eligible."
Emiratis must earn less than Dh19,000 per month after their pension deduction to be eligible. Adel Abdulla Hassan is one groom who has benefited from the fund.
"After I got married, there was a lot of pressure on me," said the 23-year-old husband, who works in sales and makes Dh8,400 a month. "When it comes to weddings, men also run around but there is no one standing next to them."
Mr Hassan's wedding to his 22-year-old wife cost Dh100,000 two years ago. He applied for funding shortly after and received the first instalment of Dh40,000.
"We use the money only for the important things, and I was able to help both of my parents as they needed some support as well," he said. "What the Marriage Fund is doing is a great thing."
To access the full grant, couples must take a six-part marriage preparation course.
"The fund provides a programme that prepares youth who are getting married to have a good measure of family culture. It will help avoid any problems that may arise at the onset of his married life," said Ms Essa.
The majority of those who have benefited from the grant said it helped them pay off debts and housing expenses.
Mohammed Abdullah said his wedding, which took place one month ago, cost Dh200,000 - leaving him with debts to pay off.
"The money has been very useful to us," said the 29-year-old newlywed from Ajman who makes Dh17,000 a month. "It has helped so far with the apartment expenses and it's going to help pay some debts."
Khaled Abdulla Ali, 22, has not been so lucky. "I submitted my papers in March to the Marriage Fund and then in April I got a slight increment in salary of between Dh200 to 300," he said.
Following the increment, Mr Ali earns Dh19,030 after his pension deduction.
"They said I am not eligible any more because of that extra Dh30."
He spent more than Dh300,000 on his wedding and had to take a Dh30,000 loan from family and friends to help cover costs.
"Getting the money would help me in so many ways and I can pay back my debt," he said.
Another groom, Ahmed, who did not want to give his last name, said the marriage preparation courses could do with some improvement.
"Although some of the courses are good, they can be quite a given," he said, adding for example that he had been told in one seminar that a man should always pay for his wife's expenses when they go out together.
Widad Samawi, a family affairs consultant, said the fund and the courses should give Emirati newlyweds a solid foundation.
"The priority must be to serve the interest and stability of the family and not the individual," she said. "There are things that are of least importance such as travel and house decor. It may cause happiness at first but there will be more sadness to come because of the costs which could affect the way love grows."
"The benefit of organisations like the Marriage Fund will be fruitless" if the money was not used in the right way, she said.
* This article was altered on September 15 to correct Widad Samawi job title.