by Edward Ncube To any average social by-stander it represents a sad impression to read that the marriage institution is being assailed. What makes this reading a tragedy is that functionally, marriage is expected to be a life-long commitment that restrains self-centeredness, self-indulgence and self-gratification.
Marriage is the one relationship that effectively prepares and conditions us for community and a conduit for the development of society by way of socialising children into the community. Latest statistics indicate that 519 summons were issued by the Bulawayo High Court last year, an increase of 113 cases from 2011.
With such figures at hand, it will be self defeating to passively swallow and pretend nothing is wrong. There is however a need for the society to interrogate this development and possibly suggest a remedy. Judge President George Chiweshe recently expressed concern at the rate at which couples were divorcing.
“The rate at which couples are divorcing has reached alarming levels,” said Justice Chiweshe at the official opening of the 2013 Legal Year of the Bulawayo High Court. He said social scientists and other experts have attributed this development to the general erosion of cultural values due to urban migration, domestic violence, adultery and other social ills.
“The prevalence of these factors has been exacerbated by the prevailing harsh economic conditions,” said Justice Chiweshe.
Marriage is far more profound than our contemporary culture would lead us to believe. By restraining self-centeredness and promoting love of another, marriage becomes the foundation for social order.
When this commitment labeled “marriage” is reduced to nothing more than a mere contract between two consenting persons, or worse just another option, it ceases to restrain our self-centered passions.
A social commentator and businessman, Mr Blazio Madyiwa Chaka said the root cause behind the accelerated divorce rate was that people no longer had regard for cultural values.
“People these days are after foreign cultures and these bring no good because they do not fit in our social system,” said Mr Madyiwa. He said couples of today have given up cultural principles that strengthen marriages such as respect and tolerance for each other.
“Our parents back in the day respected each other, and worse of back then the wife knew her parameters as well as the husband in that union. But couples of today compete for control of the home, that is not possible,” said Mr Madyiwa.
According to a paper titled “The Benefits of Marriage to the Nation,” presented at the Marriage Summit in 2007 by Chris Meney, the manner in which marriage is codified in law and the way in which societies develop social norms in support of marriage are both vitally important.
“This is because marriage is a significant social good which contributes to the society in a profound way.’” writes Meney.
However, there is a paradox here, because there is much evidence that the society cannot possibly monitor all the different ways in which individuals might choose to use or misuse ‘marriage.
The effects that follow a breakdown of a marriage have negative impact on children, experts say in some children seeing their parents divorce often feel scared about what will happen to them.
According to marriage experts children also worry about their family and what would happen to them in the future. If one parent leaves the house then they worry about that parent and whether they would get to see that parent again.
Apart from increasing divorce cases, the city also recorded an increase in the number of women taking their husbands to court over the upkeep of children with 1 853 cases recorded between January and December.
The increase of maintenance cases serves as evidence that men and women are failing to coexist in a respectable and functional union.
This is indeed a cause for concern, especially if the bulk of the maintenance cases emanate from illicit affairs that have become to be termed “small house” unions.
If the society accepts small houses that means the marriage institution itself is at risk, and ultimately can lose its relevance and significance.
According to latest court records, 1 399 cases had been opened in November and the number grew to 1 853 by 31 December, marking anaverage of between 225 and 228 cases per month towards the end of the year.
The upsurge was attributed to an array of factors among them lack of responsibility by men who abandon their families, the general economic meltdown and closure of industries in Bulawayo, resulting in thousands of workers left jobless and unable to fend for their families.
So in essence, the increase of maintenance cases translates to the reality that some guardians we have in this society are neglecting or refusing to take up the responsibility to feed, clothe, educate, provide shelter and medical care to their children.
This situation normally leaves one of the parents and sometimes relatives, with the burden of shouldering the duties of the irresponsible parent.