A large number of the divorce cases in the country involve UAE national couples, the target of an ongoing government drive to ensure family stability.
Is wealth, stemming from oil, a key reason for a high divorce rate in the UAE? Anybody looking for the easy co-relation will point to the fact that nearly half a century ago, the country enjoyed one of the most stable societies in terms of family cohesion. Now, it has one of the most unsettled household systems in the region.
The fact is oil wealth is one of a number of socio-economic factors that has led to the UAE having one of the highest divorce rates in the Middle East.
The UAE government has taken numerous initiatives to check the divorce rate among nationals, including financial incentives for couples and their children, lectures about the negative effects, awareness campaigns, and creation of social centres to try and settle family disputes.
But such efforts have had limited impact, as divorce cases have steadily increased over the past 10 years and a large number of them involved local couples or UAE national husbands or wives.
Oil has fetched the country immense wealth, which in turn brought about momentous social changes and precipitated household instability. From less than 100 per year in the early 1960s, divorce cases in the UAE have steadily increased to approach 3,000 in 2008, a daily average of about eight. Between 1994 and 2008, such cases totalled about 35,000, one of the highest divorce rates in the world relative to the adult population.
A large number of the divorce cases involved UAE national couples, the target of an ongoing government drive to ensure family stability in a bid to increase the number of citizens and turn them into a majority in the long term. The high number refutes arguments that mixed marriages are the main reason for divorce in the UAE and other Gulf countries.
In 2007, divorce cases involving UAE national couples totalled about 1,190, nearly 42 per cent of the total divorces, according to the Ministry of Economy. Divorces involving UAE national husbands and expatriate wives stood at 420 while those involving UAE national wives and foreign husbands totalled ne-arly 110.
Abu Dhabi had the highest divorce rate in the country in 2007, totalling 920, including 412 involving UAE national couples. Dubai had 594 divorces, including 248 local couples. There were 541 divorces in Sharjah, 361 in Ajman, 193 in Ras Al Khaimah, 125 in Fujairah, and 49 in Umm Al Quwain.
There was no breakdown for 2008 but the total number of divorce cases was estimated at 3,000, the highest level in nearly 20 years.
"The statistics are alarming," Marwa Kraidieh, a social researcher at the Juma Al Majid Centre, said at a recent social seminar.
"As part of my work and my communication with other people, I found out that there are a number of reasons why couples decide to divorce and they seldom talk about the real reasons to others – the way they were raised during childhood, when they were prevented from expressing themselves freely and clearly – is considered one of the reasons for the increasing divorce rate.
"Some couples prefer to keep quiet rather than come out into the open. Some men intending to divorce their wives say their spouses are reckless and disobedient and prefer not to cite the real reasons, such as being bored with their wives or that they are having affairs. The majority of women intending to get a divorce usually claim that their husbands are misers or are reckless."
Another paper presented at the seminar said: "Socio-economic changes have created a metamorphosis in the landscape of our society, and it has happened so rapidly that some do not grasp the implications or its impact on their lives. Amongst the changes has been the rapid rise of female education. And an educated woman is no longer solely dependent on her husband, she has access to work opportunities, and most importantly, she has a strong mind, which allows her to rationally decide as to what type of life she wants to live."
High divorce rates in the UAE could be among the reasons for a decline in the country's fertility rate over the past 15 years. Figures by the Ministry of Economy showed the fertility rate dropped from 3.4 per cent in 1995 to 2.07 per cent in 2005 and 1.96 per cent in 2006. The rate rose to nearly two per cent in 2007 and remained almost unchanged last year. The decline in the fertility rate was more underscored among UAE nationals, slumping from 5.37 per cent in 1995 to 3.61 per cent in 2005 and 3.53 per cent in 2006. It edged up to 3.57 per cent in 2007 and 2008.