HARARE – The meltdown gripping Zimbabwe’s once-prosperous economy has conspired with stress, and domestic violence to cause a spike in marriage breakups with the High Court in Harare alone registering 42 divorce cases in one week.
Legal experts and organisations that work with women told the Daily News on Sunday this week that the high incidences of divorce point to the sad fact that the once-sacred marriage institution had become the latest victim of the prevailing tenuous socio-economic and political conditions.
On a weekly basis, an average of 42 registered marriages are being annulled, with thousands more going unrecorded since the majority of Zimbabweans are only married customarily with no marriage certificates.
Experts who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday said going by the current weekly figures, this translates to at least 2 500 marriages being ended every year in the capital city alone.
This is a sharp increase from the past few years.
According to reports, by September in 2015, 1 102 couples had registered to terminate their marriages at the High Court in Harare and Bulawayo alone.
The High Court in 2014 dealt with 475 divorce applications, while in 2013, 473 cases were recorded, an increase from the 425 recorded in 2012.
There are several reasons why many people are divorcing these days, which was not always the case not so long ago, as people valued the principles of marriage, experts said.
Danai Chirawu, a lawyer with the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA), cited several issues that results in divorce these days.
“One of the biggest causes of divorce is domestic violence and this domestic violence is not only limited to physical abuse. It includes emotional and economic abuse. Infidelity is also another cause of divorce, because the type of law that we are dealing with is civil in nature, it’s monogamous and that in itself results in divorce,” Chirawu said.
She said in most of the cases, the children were the ones who stand to suffer as they have to make do with emotional and physical abuse which they witness from their parents.
These children also stand to suffer when their parents break up as they sometimes have to grow up with a single parent.
Chirawu, however, said counselling was of immense importance for both parties in relationships, adding that sometimes people do not really know one another because of lack of communication, which can be bridged by counselling.
What is more alarming is that these figures only involve registered marriages, while several other unregistered unions have been going unnoticed.
Under the Marriages Act (Chapter 5:11), such a marriage can be presided over by a legally designated marriage officer, who is either a religious minister, a priest or a pastor, or by a marriage officer at the Magistrates’ Court.
In terms of this civil marriage, marrying a second wife or husband is strictly prohibited, meaning the marriage is monogamous.
Anyone who breaks this principle will be committing the crime of bigamy, which is punishable by a prison sentence or a fine or both.
Another prominent Harare lawyer, Tonderai Bhatasara, said the economic hardships currently being experienced by many in the country were one of the major causes for the increase in the number of divorces in Zimbabwe.
“The issue of economic hardships is causing a lot of stress and misunderstanding in households. When you don’t have money you start arguments that do not always happen when you have money,” Bhatasara said.
He said the fact that some are marrying at a tender age creates problems especially when they grow older and get more education and gain exposure.
Bhatasara said education and exposure were making women less tolerant to abuse.
“The generation of our wives is different from that of our mothers,” he said, adding that even women are starting to have extra-marital affairs, which will not always please men who thrive on territorial integrity in patriarchal societies like Zimbabwe.
He also said that most women had misinterpreted the issue of equal rights, which has clearly created problems in most households, adding that women and children were the ones that suffer a lot because of subsequent financial imbalances.
Not only are these divorces caused by domestic violence, economic hardships and infidelity, it can also be as a result of cultural dynamics, owing to the movement of people into the diaspora.
The issue of cultural erosion also leads to people adopting foreign aspects that do not value the essence of marriage. Several western cultural practices have infiltrated the country, washing away the general belief of valuing marriage.
Over the years, women have been at the receiving end of domestic violence from their male partners.
Some have died or injured due to domestic violence.
However, the trends have shifted, as more and more women are educated about issues to do with domestic violence.
Women have also managed to gather the courage to leave abusive relationships.
From a cultural perspective, it was difficult for a woman to leave her husband, no matter the hardships.
Women would always be encouraged to stay put and take care of their children.
They were brutally attacked, murdered, but have broken the chains to stand as independent individuals, who can make their own decisions.
Another lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity for professional reasons echoed the same sentiments on the causes of divorce.
She mentioned infidelity and financial problems as some of the main causes of divorce.
“In a few of the cases I have come across one party usually the more financially secure one or breadwinner makes all decisions to the exclusion of the other to a point where assets are acquired and disposed of without consultation etc. In some cases it’s also interference from family members,” the lawyer said.
She also said children were the biggest casualties in a divorce.
“The level of financial support usually drops and thereby affecting their standard of living and then sometimes custody wrangles are so bad that the parents use the children as pawns in their fights against each other,” she said, adding that counseling saves couples from divorcing.