'Eight divorces an hour' in Saudi Arabia

'Eight divorces an hour' in Saudi Arabia

3 min read
14 July, 2015
Blog: What lies behind the falling marriage rate and rising divorce rate in the ultra-conservative kingdom?
The exploitation of children through marriage is one factor behind rising divorce rates [Getty]

The figures may be shocking, but they are official, coming from the Saudi Ministry of Justice. The number of divorce cases registered in the first six months of 2015 was 33,954. There were11,817 marriages.

For the first time ever, there are three times as many divorces, working out at 8.4 divorces per hour, against 2.9 marriages.

Of the nearly 34,000 divorces, there were just 434 initiated by women - known as khula cases.

There were more than 8,000 divorces this year so far, compared with the same period last year.

Sheikh Khaled al-Humaish runs the website Zawaj ["marriage"]. The figures are alarming and pose a threat to society, he said.

Divorce rates in Saudi Arabia are rising steadily year on year, with serious implications, he told al-Araby:

"The problem is two-fold. With rising divorce rates, we notice declining marriage rates."

He pointed out that young people were reluctant to marry because of tough economic conditions. "There are no appropriate jobs for young people, or housing," he said. "We see many Saudi men turn 35 without managing to get married." This, said Humaish, could have a serious impact on family stability in the kingdom.

Official figures also show that more than 1.5 million Saudi women are yet to marry.

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Officials at the Family Affairs Directorate say this figure is likely to increase over the next ten years to around four million women, in light of tough economic conditions and widespread unemployment in the kingdom - with 26 percent of young Saudis currently without a job.

The Mecca region topped the divorce rate list, with 9,954 divorces - including 405 khula cases.

Jeddah was the city with the most splits, with 5,306 cases recorded so far this year. Mecca city had 2,326 cases, and Taif registed 1,459.

Underlying factors

Social commentators say a variety of reasons lie behind the high divorce rate. One reason cited is age difference, with child marriage rife in the country. The kingdom's authorities have staunchly refused to pass any law which would limit girls being married off to old men.

Economic mismatch is another key factor - especially when wives are used to a certain standard of living before marriage - say some analysts.

Sheikh Mohammad Othman Fallaj Baba, an Islamic marriage officer and family counsellor, told al-Araby al-Jadeed that divorce is driven by other causes.

"Divorce levels have increased because of the rising number of temporary marriages," he said. "Many men do not register these officially in civil status records."

     Mothers press their daughters to divorce at the first sign of trouble, rather than encourage them to be patient like mothers did in the past.

Fallaj Baba, who has written books on marriage and married life, said another problem is the weak marital culture among young people, and interference by in-laws in young families.

"Most youths want to keep their freedom, even after marriage, as though nothing has changed in their lives," he said.

"Many women reveal the most intimate secrets of their maried lives to their mothers, which in many cases has caused mothers to press their daughters to divorce at the first sign of trouble, rather than encourage them to be patient like mothers did in the past."