Theresa Tan – Straits Times
By the time he was 35, he had been divorced five times and had fathered at least 10 children with five different women.
He was an extreme case of a serial divorcee.
“He cheated on his wives and they left him because they could not stand his roving eyes or he could not support them financially,” Madam Zaleha Ahmad, center director of Inspirasi@AMP, said.
The man, a customer service officer earning about $2,000 a month, could not keep up with maintenance payments and his dependents are suffering because of his free-wheeling ways.
The proportion of repeat divorces in the Muslim community is significantly higher than for those in civil divorces.
In 2010, 14.7 percent of all Muslim men divorcing that year had been divorced before. For men in civil divorces, that proportion was only 3.9 per cent.
Recognizing the problem, the Muslim community has been working to bring down the rate of divorce and has made progress — the proportion of repeat divorcees has fallen.
The 14.7 percent figure for Muslim men in 2010 was considerably lower than 20.3 per cent in 1990.
For Muslim women, 15.8 per cent of all those who divorced in 2010 had been divorced before — down from 23.7 per cent in 1990.
Madam Zaleha, whose center runs marriage guidance programs for young Muslim couples, feels efforts to bring down the divorce rate in the community have resulted in the lower proportion of serial divorcees.
Earlier this month, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said Muslim marriages were “generally showing stronger resilience.”
The number of Muslim divorces fell by 16 percent from 1,944 in 2006 to 1,626 in 2010. Couples now have to attend mandatory counseling when they file for divorce, to help them examine if they can salvage their union.
On average over the past six years, 44 percent of couples who were counseled did not go ahead with their divorce.
Also, young Muslim couples and those planning to remarry have to attend marriage preparation courses to help them understand the challenges ahead and equip them with skills to keep a marriage going.
Couples where at least one partner is below 21 and couples where at least one party is a divorcee under 50 and with children who are minors have to attend such classes.
Last year, 40 per cent of couples with at least one minor-age partner delayed or called off their marriage after attending the course.
Counselors say the Muslim serial divorcees are often housewives or those in poorly paid jobs who rush into matrimony within months of meeting their partners.
They feel they need a man to support their families and many want a father figure to discipline and guide their children.
Some divorced women feel compelled to remarry, believing that others shun divorcees or view them negatively, Madam Zaleha pointed out.
But they land in more difficulty when they choose men who are struggling with poverty or addictions and fail to make good husbands or fathers.
So these marriages fail as well, the women start trying again, and the vicious circle repeats itself.
Member of Parliament for Chua Chu Kang GRC Zaqy Mohamad suggests that one way to stem repeat divorces is to provide more support to poor or unemployed divorcees to help them stand on their own feet, so these women do not rush into unsuitable unions.
The community must also continue to find ways to empower couples to strengthen their marriages and re-marriages.
Cleaner Mariam (not her real name) is in her 20s and already twice-divorced with five children by three different men she got together with after whirlwind romances.
She was in her teens when she married the first time, and it was a shotgun marriage. She had three children with her first husband, but he cheated on her and they split up after five years of marriage.
She then met another man and had a child with him but they did not marry. That relationship unraveled quickly, after the man was jailed for drug abuse.
She married again, had another baby, but that husband was also jailed for drug offenses.
Madam Lee Yean Wun, principal social worker at Kampong Kapor Family Service Center which is helping Mariam, said: “She feels she needs a man in her life to support her and her children.
“But we are now working with her to help her realize she can manage on her own, and that these men are not solving her problems.”