With divorce rates on the rise in general in recent marriages, statistics show divorces among Muslim couples before the fifth year of marriage have seen a decline in Singapore.
A study by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) found that divorce rates decreased from 14 percent among those who married in 2003 to 11.4 percent who married in 2008.
In comparison, divorce rates before the fifth marriage anniversary for non-Muslim couples have remained about the same for the 2003 and 2008 cohorts, at 5.1 percent and 5.6 percent respectively.
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The lower divorce rates for recent Muslim marriages could be attributed to community initiatives in marriage preparation as well as counselling and enrichment for Muslim couples, the MSF said in a statement.
A mandatory counselling programme has been set up under the Shariah court, whereby Muslim couples who want to leave the marriage must attend before making the final decision.
Since the programme started in 2004, more than 27,000 couples have taken part; after which about 44 percent of them changed their minds about separating.
Marriage preparation programmes for Muslim couples have also been enhanced to address the needs of different types of marriages, including that of young couples and remarriages.
There are also support programmes for Muslim newly-wed couples and new parents to help them manage transitions and challenges in marriage, as well as public education efforts via print media, TV and radio dramas.
Muhammad Ali Mahmood, senior director of social services at voluntary welfare group PPIS, agreed that the community initiatives have helped.
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He said marriage preparation programmes for minor couples, in which one of the partners is below 21, and the mandatory counselling programme for Muslim couples seeking divorce have helped.
"It is important that minor couples get the help they need, as they may lack the resources to make good decisions," he said.
He recalled a case of how a couple had sought divorce but attending the programme helped them change their decision.
The wife felt that her husband was not fulfilling his role as a father and not playing with their child at all.
After counselling, they learnt the husband did not play with his child as he grew up in a family where he did not experience such love from his parents too.
"As women get more educated, they are less dependent on their husbands and more likely to consider divorce," Ali said.
The husband was later willing to make amends and learnt to be a better parent.
"After couples are counselled, they realise that there are actually many things at stake," Ali added.
"It's not just a dissolution of a marriage; it's the dissolution of a family with children," he concluded.
This article originally appeared on The Straits Times
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