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Feature – Marriage loses its sparkle in Kuwait

Kuwait Marriages losing sparkle?

Kuwaitis say divorce and remarriage have become easier and carry less of a social stigma. Nearly a quarter of those who divorced in 2011 had been married for less than a year.

October 11, 2012 8:59 by

By Sylvia Westall

In a luxury hotel suite, away from prying eyes, twenty Kuwaiti female guests at a traditional wedding party segregated by the sexes watch the men via a video link.

The women snap pictures of the festivities on their cell phones and swap stories about how they met their husbands and their views on marriage. The contrasts between young and old in the conversation expose a shift in society that has the government worried.

“The most important thing now is getting a university degree,” said Noora al-Jaber, 28, who married seven years ago.

“The woman should get a good certificate and the man a steady income. Only then can they think about marriage,” she said, as the women sipped fruit juice from champagne flutes.

The role of the family is extremely important in Kuwait, where large clans forge blood ties that are essential not only socially but also in politics and business.

But the marriage rate is falling: in 2011 there were 359 marriages per 100,000 inhabitants, a ten percent decrease compared to 2007, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice. Around 70 percent of the marriages were between two nationals of the Gulf Arab state, which is home to 1.2 million Kuwaitis and 2.4 million foreigners.

The government, which sees itself as the guardian of traditional values and social stability, has shown its concern about the trend with a campaign called “Marriage Comes First.”

The campaign, launched in March by the Justice Ministry, encourages Kuwaitis to think about matrimony before material goods, studying, a career, travelling and having fun with friends.

“You are right” to want all these things, say the brightly coloured advertisements in local media. “But, MARRIAGE COMES FIRST.”

Ministry officials declined to comment on the campaign. But the issue has potentially vast implications for the tiny oil producer, including its effect on the birth rate and the role of women and the family in what is still a deeply conservative society.

The trend in the fertility rate has remained largely stable since 2005, although it is down to 2.3 births per woman in 2010 compared to 3.5 in 1990, according to data compiled by the World Health Organisation.

But this could change, reflecting a trend across the region, said Mona Almunajjed, a Saudi sociologist who has written about social demographics in the Middle East.

“In the long term it is very important because it is going to affect the demographic curve. If women are becoming more financially independent, and marrying later, they are going to have fewer children,” she said.

A slower birth rate is not always a negative in countries where the young make up a large proportion of the “age pyramid”, such as in the Gulf, said Leila Hoteit, a management consultant at Booz & Company in Abu Dhabi.

“Given the large challenge they face to employ their youth, a drop in birth rate is not necessarily a bad thing for society,” she told Reuters in an e-mail.

“The concern I would say is more around social factors: the social cohesion of families.”

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