Tajik women face divorce epidemic

Tajik women face divorce epidemic

numbers of Tajik women are being divorced by husbands working away in
Russia, leading to serious social issues, reports the BBC’s Rayhan
Demytrie from Tajikistan.

«When I moved back here, my youngest daughter was only four.
Now she is eight years old,» says Gulhumor, 33, as she binds dry twigs
to make a broom for sweeping the courtyard of her parents’ house.

Her hard life has aged her early.

Gulhumor shares one room with her four daughters. Two of her
brothers and their families also live here — they still reproach her for
bringing so many «hungry mouths» into the cramped house.

But Gulhumor had nowhere else to go after her husband of 12 years divorced her.

«My husband works in Russia, he would come home for a couple
of months and then leave again for a year or two. The money he sent went
straight to his parents. He divorced me over the phone,» she said.

Quick divorce

Tajikistan is among the few Muslim
nations where men can divorce their wives by repeating the word «taloq» —
divorce — three times. They can do it face to face, over the phone, or
simply by sending an SMS text.

Even though the State Religious Affairs Committee outlawed the practice last year, it is still commonplace.

In Gulhumor’s village in the southern Tajik region of Khatlon, many women share similar problems.

Zaynab, 23, was married for just over a month before her husband, also a migrant worker in Russia, divorced her.

She sought help from the local NGO Khamroz, which provided
legal help to sue for her dowry that her in-laws did not want to return.

This NGO also helped Gulhumor fight for alimony from her ex-husband.

«In every village there are plenty of women who have been
abandoned by their migrant-worker husbands. We are trying to help to
chase the men in Russia, but it does not always work,» said Gulmira
Abdujaborova from Khamroz.

«The main problem for the abandoned wives is the lack of
housing. Ex-husbands don’t pay alimony, which means women have no money
to feed their children. Bringing up their children as a single parent is
also not easy.»

Tajikistan is a poor country. Jobs options are limited and the ones that exist do not pay well.

Over one million Tajiks — a third of the adult population —
have left to find work in Russia. The money they send home accounts for
nearly half of the country’s GDP.

But more and more men are choosing not to return home.

‘Vulnerable’ family

Official statistics show that the divorce rate has gone up 14.3% this year alone.

Observers say however that the real number could be higher,
as many marriages and divorces are not officially registered. Instead
people, particularly in rural parts of the country, marry or get
divorced according to Islamic rituals.

For Gulhumor and other women in rural Tajikistan, picking
cotton is one of the few ways to earn cash. They are paid 30 diram
($0.06; ?0.04) per kilo.

With the help of her children on a good day, Gulhumor can pick 150kg (330lbs) of cotton, earning just over $10.

Child labour is officially illegal in Tajikistan, but a UN
Children’s Fund study found that children abandoned by their fathers had
little choice but to work.

«If the parent disappears and stops providing support,
obviously the family becomes very vulnerable,» said Arthur van Diesen,
deputy representative of Unicef in Tajikistan.

«[There are] all sorts of negative impact on children — they
drop out of school, work at the very early age. The psycho-social impact
is so severe, girls become withdrawn and depressed. In boys, the
absence of a father causes aggression.»

Stressed orphans

And in some extreme cases, migrant parents leave their children in institutions.

In Orphanage No. 1 in the capital Dushanbe, a group of
children aged between two and four sit on benches in the garden. When
they see cameras and microphones, they become excited and jump around

Some of the children ended up here because their parents have gone to Russia.

«We know from our experience when a parent brings a child and
says it’s temporary, we know that they are unlikely to be back,» said
Dr Nazira Muhamadjonova from the Kishti rehabilitation centre at the

«There is one boy that we all like very much. His name is
Aliakbar, he is blind. His mother is in Russia earning money. When she
came to visit him recently, the boy was so stressed. I was shocked to
see such a little boy being withdrawn and depressed when his mother left
him again.»

Back in Gulhumor’s house, her eldest daughter Tamanno is spinning the wheel of her most valued asset — her sewing machine.

She uses it to make clothes for her sisters. She is 14 and very shy.

When asked what her dream was, she says it is to have a house where her mother can live happily.

Labour migration is helping to keep Tajikistan’s economy
afloat, but the social cost is high, and the most vulnerable are paying
the price.

BBC © 2012


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