Divorces are on the rise in Iraq, official figures show, though the number of couples parting ways is still far lower than the latter years of Saddam Hussein’s rule, and marriages much higher.
According to figures from Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council, the number of divorces in Iraq has risen steadily since 2004. But marriages far outstrip divorces, while the opposite was true from 1995-2003.
There were 28,690 divorces in 2004, 33,348 in 2005, 35,627 in 2006, 41,536 in 2007, 44,116 in 2008, and 61,466 in 2009. The next year saw a drop to 53,840 divorces, but the number for 2011 rose again to 59,515.
Human Rights Ministry spokesman Kamil al-Amin told AFP that “economic and social reasons... are behind the occurrence of divorce in Iraq.”
And Samira al-Mussawi, a member of parliament’s human rights committee, echoed Amin’s views, saying that “the influence of this increase is bad and negative, and threatens the future of society and childhood in the country.”
While divorce rates are on the rise, they are still significantly lower than during the last years of Saddam’s regime.
In 1995, there were 121,294 divorces but only 33,161 marriages, while in 2003, the year Saddam was overthrown, the country saw 175,579 divorces and only 20,649 marriages.
In 2004, meanwhile, there were 262,554 marriages, compared with 28,690 divorces, and there were 230,470 marriages in 2011, compared with 59,515 divorces that year.
Iraqis have suffered through three decades of turmoil that began when Saddam launched the 1980-1988 war with Iran, then invaded Kuwait in 1990 only to be forced out by an international coalition in 1991.
The country was hit by crippling sanctions over the Kuwait invasion, which caused widespread privation that impacted Iraq's people much more than its leadership.
And in 2003, Saddam was ousted in a U.S.-led invasion that unleashed a wave of internecine violence in which tens of thousands of people were killed. Though the unrest has declined since its peak in 2006-2007, attacks remain common.
Despite the country’s vast oil wealth, Iraqis also suffer from unemployment and a shortage of housing, both of which can put strain on marriages.
Lawyer Hakima Adhim said that “dozens of divorce cases and separations happen daily... during the last years.”
“There are economic factors, especially unemployment and other social factors,” she said, such as the husband seeking to marry a second wife, which is permitted by Islam but can lead the first wife to seek divorce.
In Diyala province in central Iraq, which has seen a large number of attacks in recent weeks, there were 940 divorce cases in 2007, but 1,670 in 2010, according to officials in the region.
Judge Latif al-Tamimi, who works in the court in Baquba, the capital of Diyala, said that “most divorce cases are because of early marriage and the difficult economic circumstances.”
According to Mustafa Ibrahim, a social worker who has worked for eight years in the Karrada court in central Baghdad, “social and financial problems are the main reasons for the divorce in our society.”
Ibrahim called on the government “to address unemployment and the housing crisis to reduce the escalating risk of divorce.”
He noted that a 60-year-old man and woman recently divorced after the owner of their apartment asked them to leave, because they had no place to live together.
“There was no problem between them except housing,” Ibrahim said.
Ruqaya Mahmud, head of the Women’s Department in the rights ministry, held the courts responsible for the increase in divorces, criticizing the “weak court procedures” and the lack of social workers playing a role to stop early marriages.
She also warned against the practice of going to clergy for marriage contracts outside the judiciary, as this “causes serious social problems including not being able to officially register children.”