Jordan introduces free pre-marriage counselling to lower divorce rates
AMMAN - In a move to lower divorce rates, Jordan has implemented a comprehensive programme to prepare couples for a long married life by focusing on four key aspects of their future.
The pre-nuptial programme has been hailed as a positive move. There is an average of 80,000 marriage contracts sealed in Jordan annually but nearly 21,000 cases of divorce are registered each year.
“There is a decrease in the number of marriages in Jordan and this is unhealthy. The main reasons for the trend are the lack of financial means and fear of assuming the responsibility of raising a family,” said Hussein Khazai, a professor of sociology at Jordan University.
“The lack of knowledge of the true meaning of marriage among young people makes the idea of getting married a problem and not a solution.”
The number of marriages dropped to 77,700 in 2017 from 81,343 in 2016. Irbid governorate in northern Jordan registered the highest number with 28% and Karak governorate in the south the lowest with 1.4%, statistics from the Supreme Judge Department indicate.
An estimated 45% of Jordanians are unmarried, Khazai said.
“There are some 150,000 men over 30 and 100,000 women over 27 who are not married,” he said. “Men carry a lot of burdens and are under pressure to provide necessary marriage requirements, including high dowry demanded by the girl’s family.”
The pre-marital counselling programme offered by the Chief Islamic Justice Department is optional. It includes lectures and seminars covering marriage-related rights and duties in line with sharia and laws governing family matters, such as health aspects of spousal relations, children’s education and personal communication and managing household finances.
“The marriage certificate given by the Chief Islamic Justice Department is an excellent and positive means for preparing couples who are in the process of getting married. It increases awareness about all aspects of married life, which, in my opinion, is what we need,” said Alia Saed, a single Jordanian woman.
“I have many friends who got married but soon they faced many issues. If they had the chance to go to such seminars about marriage, I believe most of the problems would have been solved.”
Others say lack of knowledge about responsibilities and duties that come with being married is not the obstacle that is stopping young people from getting married.
“We are living in the knowledge age and information about marriage is accessible everywhere but I think the most important issue that couples face is financial insecurity,” said Ayman Horani, who owns a car washing business.
“How can a young person get married and provide a secure life for his family when his monthly income is not sufficient to sustain himself? The man should provide a house, furniture, food, pay bills and school tuitions and this does not come cheap.”
Horani said the increase in the cost of getting married was leading many Jordanian men to marry foreigners.
“Foreign women don’t ask for dowry or an expensive house and a car, and today one can easily find a bride online, travel to meet her and get married,” he said.
The Supreme Judge Department statistics show that, in 2017, approximately 3,413 Jordanian men married non-Jordanian Arab women and 467 married foreigners, while 3,582 Jordanian women married Arab nationals and 333 married non-Arabs.
Ashraf Omari, spokesman for the chief Islamic judge, encouraged couples planning to get married to follow the counselling programme. “It is very flexible and does not delay or complicate any planned marriage,” he said.
“It is a one-day programme that covers key issues in married life and it is free for now. It is limited (to Amman) for the time being but we need to take it to locations all over the kingdom. The programme targets those who are over 18 but also, in special cases, those who are underage,” Omari told local media.
The programme has been introduced to refugees at Zaatari, Jordan’s first official Syrian refugee camp and home for nearly 80,000 people. Early marriages are becoming increasingly common among Syrian refugees.
Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.