SHARJAH // Divorce is costing the country US$220 million (Dh807m) a year, an FNC member has said, warning that more must be done to stop families from breaking apart. Salem al Naqbi, the FNC member for Khorfakkan, told the Sharjah Ramadan council that divorce had become "rampant" and was costing the Federal Government large sums of money, notably to run marriage counselling programmes and to care for abandoned children.
The most recent figures for divorce in the UAE showed that 46 per cent of marriages fail, the highest rate in the GCC. A recent government-issued sermon suggested that state ulamas might cancel oral divorce - which simply requires a husband to utter "I divorce thee" to his wife. Mr Naqbi also claimed that 60 per cent of Emirati men were marrying foreign women, leading to widespread spinsterhood among Emirati women and contributing to an erosion of the national identity, although he provided no substantiation for the figure.
"This is the major cause of spinsterhood, many young Emirati girls at the age of marriage cannot get an Emirati husband yet are not allowed to marry foreigners and this has so many negative consequences," he said at the meeting held on Sept 15. Dr Khalid al Janabi, of Ajman University, proposed to the council that the relevant ministries set up a committee to examine all new marriage and divorce proposals and reject those they deemed unfit. He said a similar system in Malaysia had helped lower the divorce rate to seven per cent.
Problems with divorce and keeping families together have been raised at similar councils held in other emirates for the holy month, leading, among other things, to several calls for a law to ban Emirati men from marrying foreign women. Dr Ibrahim Elias, a social activist, told the Sharjah council that statistics collected by the Marriage Fund, a government authority, showed that thousands of Emirati youths married women originating from more than 40 countries last year, with Russia and the Philippines leading the list.
"What is so funny is that most of the Filipina brides had at first been housemaids. The husband divorces the wife, and the maid will get married to him," he said. However, Mohammed Rashid, another participant in the debate, defended the choices of Emirati men, saying that the high cost of marrying an Emirati girl had contributed to the problems. "The six-figure dowry requests, a luxuriously furnished apartment, a sports car [which are often] requested by Emirati girls are just unaffordable to most Emirati youths. The few who strain themselves cannot sustain them throughout marriage and consequently it is divorce," he said. "We should also discuss teaching our girls that life is not always simple and they should be patient."
Dr Taha Hussein, a lecturer at Ajman University, said young people were being fed two confusing ideals - the importance of their heritage and the glamour of western lifestyles. Dr Abdul Hamid, a law professor at the same university, agreed that spinsterhood was becoming a problem in the UAE, but argued that discriminating among foreign spouses by not granting them full citizenship, for example, was not the solution. "It is not right that we legally accept these marriages and then deny citizenships to the spouses. I think here it should be legally sound that if we don't want them as wives to our sons we ban it completely [rather] than treating them that way."