Number of Single Women May Double by 2007

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M. Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Arab News Staff

Published — Thursday 5 June 2003

Last Update 5 June 2003 3:00 am

RIYADH, 5 June 2003 — A Saudi sociologist has warned that the number of single Saudi women could more than double to four million by 2007 because of social problems spawned by the Kingdom’s economic and social growth.

More than 20 percent of marriages last year ended in divorce.

Professor Abdullah Al-Fawzan, a sociologist at King Saud University, has cautioned that polygamy is responsible for up to 55 percent of divorces. He said that changing times impacted on relationships and led to a loss of honesty, sincerity, love, compassion and cooperation. There are now 1.5 million single Saudi women.

He expressed concern that more than 18,000 out of 60,000 marriages solemnized in 2001 ended in divorce. One of the strongest statistical findings was that the higher a man’s income, the greater the chance of the couple staying together, said the Saudi sociologist, adding that changes in a couple’s economic circumstances have an enormous effect on marriages.

A large difference in age, he said, was also a risk factor for the marriage.

Another study, however, conducted by Dr. Ebtisam Halawani of King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, in which 158 Saudi divorcees were approached, said that “the main causes of breaking away for women from their husbands were ill-treatment and violence.”

Some of the divorcees said that their separation was the result of their husbands’ unwillingness to meet the family’s financial needs.

Some 38 percent of divorcees said that the involvement of their husbands in illicit relationships led to the broken marriages.

Professor Fawzan said that most marriages were not based on mutual familiarity. This, he said, could lead to incompatibility, misunderstanding and separation. The soaring cost of marriages in Saudi Arabia was creating another major social problem, the professor said, adding that many local charitable institutions in cooperation with government agencies were helping couples to marry.

Recently, a major charitable marriage scheme celebrated the wedding of 1,600 couples in Jeddah at a cost of SR16 million. Similar mass weddings were also organized in the recent past in Riyadh and Dammam as well as in other cities in the Kingdom. Similar events are planned for this year.

The study notes that the Islamic courts have been approving 25 to 35 divorce cases every day in the country. Most of the divorces occurred in the first three years of marriage and a majority of divorced women had married under the age of 20, the study said. Riyadh city topped the list of divorces, followed by Jeddah.

“If the current rate of divorce continues, there will be eight million single women in Saudi Arabia by the end of the decade,” the study said.

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