Why Bangladesh’s divorce rate is rising

Feb 28, 2019

IT WAS WHEN Nasrin Khaleque got a job that she realised her marriage “was not normal”. None of her female colleagues seemed to have husbands who checked to see what they were up to ten times a day, or who objected if they went out for coffee after work. She told her husband she wanted a divorce. “I realised I didn’t have to put up with it,” she says.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the number of applications for divorce has increased by 34% in the past seven years. More and more are filed by women, especially in cities. Not long ago, women could not initiate divorces. During marriage ceremonies, the presiding registrar would ask the husband and his family if they wanted to give the bride the right to seek a divorce, says Fawzia Karim Firoze, president of the Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association. “Of course many, if not most, families said ‘no’.” A legal change means women now enjoy the right as a matter of course. But they still have to give a reason for wanting a divorce, such as infidelity. Men do not.

For the poorest and the richest, says Mrs Firoze, divorce was never that unusual. Among the poor, marriages are seldom official, allowing men to abandon one wife for another easily. As for the rich, “Wealth buys certain freedoms.” But among the middle classes, divorce has been rare: “They...


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