Marriage at risk for migrant workers

Updated: 2012-03-02 06:42


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NANNING - As a young judge in China's underdeveloped southwest, Li Ting was surprised to learn about how many rural couples had tried to end their marriages over the past month, just after Chinese New Year festivities had ended.

"I remembered there was a week that 26 of the 28 couples who came to the court to untie the knot involved migrant workers," said Li, a 24-year-old judge in Tiandeng county of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

After communicating with judges from other courts, Li realized that what she had experienced was not an isolated phenomenon.

A judge in the region's Guanyang county said that the number of divorce cases involving young rural couples that his court had handled nearly tripled from 2007 to 2010.

Most of the couples were among the 240 million migrant workers who had flooded to the affluent coastal regions and big cities for better pay.

In Tiandeng, a county with 400,000 residents, one fourth of its population have left home for jobs in cities.

Being separated for a long time is mainly blamed for the rising number of failed marriages in China's relatively poor rural regions where divorce was once rare due to deep-rooted traditional values, said Sun Xiaoying, an expert with the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences.

Sun explained that in many cases, only the husband leaves for work in cities while his wife must stay at home to take care of the older and younger family members.

Being apart from their husbands, nearly 70 percent of stay-in-hometown wives of migrant workers in the southern province of Guangdong have psychological problems, according to a recent research by the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang's Guangdong committee.

According to the research, the province currently has 4 million rural wives whose husband are working in cities and 50.6 percent of the women surveyed said they felt anxious frequently and 39 percent of them even suffered from depression.

With one partner being left at home and feeling lonely while the other is experiencing the new life of the city, marriages can easily become fragile, Sun said.

There are also cases of women changing their fate by leaving their past life behind and dumping their husband after experiencing life in the big cities, she said.

"The environment makes people change," she added. "If a mother left home for a better life, it can be really bad for the children."

Along with China's rapid economic development and mind liberation, people nowadays want more in marriage and when a relationship breaks down they are far more likely to divorce than the older generation.

Not like the old times, divorce is not a horrible thing any more and people would not judge you much if you chose to divorce, Sun said.

In 2011, more than 2.1 million couples ended their marriage across the country, a big surge from 2003's 1.33 million.

Sichuan, a major labor exporting province, reported most divorces among Chinese provinces last year, the second year in a row after it jumped to the top in 2010 from the seventh in 2009.

Meanwhile, matchmaking still plays a major role in marriages in China's rural areas. Under family pressures, young couples are more likely to tie the knot hastily before even having a real and solid relationship - a potential risk that could lead to failed marriages once problems come up.

Li Ting said that the judges are especially careful when hearing migrant workers' divorce cases. They always try to help them settle the problems and persuade them not to resort to divorce so easily.

Sun Xiaoying suggested that the government and companies should care more for migrant workers, such as providing more vacations and create more opportunities for the couples to spend time together.

Communities should also provide psychological help, especially marriage counseling for migrant workers, Sun said.