Divorce is on the rise in Ethiopia. According to data from the Lideta Federal First Instance Court, within a three-year span, more than 16,000 divorces were recorded, a trend that doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. A number of reasons may lead to the dissolution of marriage, but some are concerned about the potential effects of divorce on individuals and the society in general. EBR adjunct staff writer Meseret Mamo spoke with lawyers, counsellors and divorcees to learn more about this trend and its potentially harmful effects.
Marriage is recognised by many societies as an important social and legal institution that serves as a foundation for family and cultural norms. For this reason, states have long had a vested interest in regulating the formation and dissolution of marriages.
Even though marriage has long been understood as a culturally and sociologically important component of a country, some argue its significance is changing in recent years due to the increasing rate of divorce, both in urban and rural areas.
The experience of recently divorced individuals like Tsehay Mulugeta (name changed), who is now in her late 30s, is a testament to the increasing divorce rate between couples that live in urban areas. “Last year I ended my marriage because many problems existed in my family,” she told EBR. “Although it pains me to end my eight-year marriage, I have no alternative if I want to continue with my life.”
Evidence sourced from the Addis Ababa City Vital Events Registration Agency demonstrates that the number of registered divorce is increasing in the city. In the 2009/10 fiscal year, the Agency registered 151 divorce cases, which increased to 1,954 by the end of 2015/16.
Endalemaw Werkneh, Information Officer at the Agency, says the divorce registered by his office is a fraction of the actual number of divorces, since people are not accustomed to registering their divorce with the Agency. “People only come to the Agency to notify their divorce when they are required to present the registration of divorce by the authorities,” he explains. “These include when they want to remarry or they are asked to bring proof of divorce when they register for condominium housing.”
Indeed, information obtained from the Lideta Federal First Instance Court indicates the number of divorces is much higher than what is reported to agencies. For instance, according to the information obtained from the Court, between 2012/13 and 2014/15, 16,035 marriages ended in divorce. During this period, the Agency only registered 3,348 divorce cases.
Divorce lawyers also speak of the staggering divorce rate in Addis Ababa. “Of the cases filed in courts divorce takes the majority share,” said Fekadu Bekele Nedy, Legal Advisor and Attorney at any court, in Chelot Magazine, a publication of the Federal Supreme Court, in 2015. “For instance, the Nefas Silk First Instance Court has two Family Courts that entertain 100 divorce cases per day.”
A study in the Wudpecker Journal of Sociology and Anthropology demonstrates that the number of divorce is increasing in rural areas. Research conducted in seven woredas of East Gojjam find out that in 2009, 2010 and 2011 the divorce rate has increased from 6.3Pct, to 7.8Pct and 17.87Pct, respectively.
A study entitled ‘Divorce in Ethiopia’ in the Journal of Biosocial Science indicates that 28Pct of first marriage ends within the first five years while 34Pct and 40Pct of all first marriages end in divorce within 10 and 20 years, respectively. Additionally, 45Pct of all first marriages end in divorce within 30 years.
Experts like Moges Gebremariam, a psychologist who has eight years of experience in marriage counselling, says factors that lead to divorce can originate within the family as well as from the outside environment. “The most common factors for divorce are incapability of producing offspring, an abusive husband, untrustworthiness, wasting money, adultery, exerting too much control and age gaps,” explains Moges, who currently works as a director at Aha Psychological Services, a company that provides pre-marriage, marriage and post-marriage counselling.
Tsehay’s marriage ended because she found out that she could no longer trust her husband. Although the immediate cause was an inability to conceive a child, the fact that her husband kept a secret – that he is the one who is infertile – was a major cause for their divorce. “Every time he insisted on going to the medical centre for examination separately and he brought me a forged evidence that proves he is perfectly health,” she told EBR. “It was only last year, when my doctor ordered my ex-husband to be examined by him, that all his lies were revealed. After that, divorcing him was the right decision and now I have a peace of mind.”
A study by Yohannes Mekonnen, a lecturer at Arba Minch University, entitled ‘Lived Experiences of Divorced Women in Rural Ethiopia’, examined some of the factors that contribute to divorce in rural areas, where traditional norms govern the institution of marriage. One of the respondents in the study says her marriage ended for health reasons: “After I gave birth to my sixth child, I became very sick and my husband told me that he does not want to live with me and forced me to leave the house.”
Another respondent said her inability to give birth became the cause of her divorce: “I got married once. I stayed 4 years with my ex-husband and got divorced. In my marriage, I couldn’t give birth to a baby. This is the reason for the dissolution of my marriage.”
Moges says the major causes for divorce from external sources include job displacement, economic crises and ethnic politics: “Although these factors contribute little towards divorce in the developed world, they can play a crucial role in developing countries.”
The divorce itself may also have a negative impact on children. According to Psychology Today, a popular mental health and counselling magazine, these effects are especially problematic for young children: “The child’s world is a dependent one, closely connected to parents who are favoured companions, heavily reliant on parental care, with family [being] the major locus of one’s social life…. For the young child, divorce shakes trust in dependency on parents who now behave in an extremely undependable way. They surgically divide the family unit into two different households…creating unfamiliarity, instability, and insecurity, never being able to be with one parent without having to be apart from the other.”
Literatures written on the subject worldwide reveal that the negative consequences of divorce on the divorcee can be explained through three theories: social role, crisis and selection theories. According to David R. Johnson, a sociology lecturer at the University of Nebraska, the social role theory can be used to explain the social and psychological impact of divorce on women.
Johnson stresses that for some time being divorced is naturally more stressful than that of being married, especially for women, because of the complex life circumstances they experience after the divorce, such as social isolation, lack of social support and economic hardship.
The crisis theory, which is the second theory used to explain the unfortunate results of divorce is an extension of the social role theory. According to this theory, one of the negative consequences of divorce is psychological distress, which can last for a short period of time. On the other hand, the selection theory states that divorce can cause high psychological distress and mental disorders for a relatively long time.
Despite the length and the nature of impacts predicted in the three theories, experts agree that divorce creates change in all aspect of divorcees’ and their children’s lives, which in turn affects the society. As a result, experts like Moges suggest that special attention should be given from all the relevant parties since the increased prevalence of divorce may have adverse effects on the society as a whole. EBR
5th Year • December 16 2016 – January 15 2017 • No. 46