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Divorces rise by 30% in Saudi Arabia after quarantine uncovers polygamous husbands

The majority of women who requested divorces from their polygamous husbands were employees, businesswomen, prominent women in the community and female doctors

Divorces in Saudi Arabia have risen by 30 per cent in the month of February after the quarantine during the coronavirus pandemic caused many wives to discover that their husbands had other wives and families, cording to the Dubai-based news site Gulf News.

It was reported back in February that marriages within the kingdom had increased by five per cent compared to the same month last year, with 13,000 marriages having been conducted and 542 registered online.

The number of divorces that month, however, was at a record 7,482, resulting in a 30 per cent increase in requests for divorces and ‘khula’ – the Islamic process in which a woman can divorce her husband. Annulment is also an option for the women, particularly in cases in which they prove they were harmed by the husband.

READ: Saudi Arabia trains clerics to hold online marriage ceremonies

Citing statistics from the Saudi Ministry of Justice, Gulf News noted that 52 per cent of divorce requests and cases that month were from the cities of Makkah and the capital Riyadh. It also noted that the majority of women who requested divorces from their polygamous husbands were employees, businesswomen, prominent women in the community and female doctors.

Saudi lawyer Saleh Musfer Al-Ghamdi told the site that within a period of two weeks during that month, he alone had received five divorce requests from wives. “Among them is a doctor who discovered that her husband married secretly to an Arab resident,” Al-Ghamdi said.

Polygamy, the practice of taking more than one wife, is legal in the religion of Islam and its legal status differs between Muslim-majority countries. While it is legal in the Gulf Arab states, it is illegal in other countries such as Turkey and Tunisia, and the practice has long been subject to debate and labelled as a women’s rights issue.

It has also been highly politicised, with Israel targeting the practice and cracking down on it in its Arab and Muslim communities, primarily as a method of decreasing rising Arab demographics while allowing the practice for Israeli Jews in order to increase Jewish demographics. By law however, polygamy has been illegal in Israel since 1977, though authorities have largely turned a blind eye to the practice.

READ: Israel fights polygamy among Muslim citizens

Note: This page was updated at 16.14 BST on 7 June 2020 to clarify that polygamy has technically been illegal in Israel since 1977.

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