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Marriage guidance on offer in shopping mall

Counsellors are offering marriage guidance to shoppers in a bid to tackle rising divorce rates.

DUBAI // There is more on offer than bargains at one mall in the city this week. Counsellors are offering marriage guidance to shoppers in a bid to tackle rising divorce rates. The campaign, sponsored by the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department in Dubai, is an attempt to reach people who might otherwise not seek support when faced with marriage or family problems. The campaign, called "He has put between you affection and mercy", a reference to a Quranic verse, aims to encourage parents, couples and those about to marry to seek professional guidance and counselling in a bid to reduce divorce rates. According to one survey published by the Marriage Fund, the country's divorce rate has reached 40 per cent, the highest in the Arab world.

Also yesterday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, ordered that all new shopping centres in the emirate must have mosques and health clinics. Relationship counsellors, meanwhile, set up a station at a coffee shop in Festival City mall yesterday. Behind a wooden divider they worked from 11am to 10pm. The sessions continue until Saturday, with the exception of Friday noon prayer hours.

"We decided to do this in a mall in order to reach out to people who would normally be too bashful to enter an official building and ask for help," said Yousra al Qaoud, the head of religious advisory at the department. "When the place is comfortable and casual, people relax and open up, and it's free including the coffee and tea." The week-long initiative, which is intended to publicise the counselling services on offer through the Islamic affairs authority, is part of a wider campaign that started two months ago.

The first part targeted government employees with seminars on how to balance work and family. In October the department will sponsor panels to address ways to prevent divorce, with seminars on managing family problems such as domestic violence and infidelity. One hour into the coffee shop counselling sessions yesterday there were eight women seeking advice. Four were teachers who worked together and wanted to know how to manage troubled children, including one of the women's temperamental son.

"Kids who have temper tantrums need a way to alleviate their aggression," said the female family counsellor. "When we were kids, we used to do that with water balloons, remember? Such activities help." The woman was surprised, and asked: "You mean it's not shameful and wrong to have temper tantrums?" "No," said the counsellor. "When you find he is becoming upset, just talk to him. Take him aside and say, 'You seem upset. Your face is getting red and you have tears in your eyes. What's upsetting you?' This way, you teach your child how to verbalise the anger. That way he won't retreat to violence."

Counsellors said the most common issue on which parents sought advice was how to encourage children to be independent. "Whether it's what age to potty- train or when to insist the child sleep alone or do his homework on his own, teaching independence seems to be the main issue on parents' mind today," said family counsellor Aisha al Muhajeri. Marital problems, however, come with a stronger call for help. A recent survey by the department showed the most common cause of marital problems was infidelity.

"Especially online infidelity," said Ms al Muhajeri, who will soon publish a book about online trends in Emirati society and their effect on the family. "We've been hearing about it so much lately. Women especially come to us complaining that their husband spends too much time chatting with women online, or that he visits pornographic sites." While countrywide studies on the causes of divorce are difficult to find, there are many small studies sponsored by family counselling units.

One, sponsored by Al Farha Academy, a Dubai-based privately funded family advisory company, showed that the main reason for divorce in the UAE was infidelity by either spouse. relass@thenational.ae

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