Counseling aimed at reducing divorces

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In the hope of lowering China's soaring divorce rate, love counseling will be offered in offices where couples go in Beijing to end their marriages.

"Professionally trained social workers will offer free services, including love mediation and legal aid, to help couples resolve marital strife and seek solutions other than divorce," said Gu Xiuqin, director-general of the China Association of Social Workers' marriage and family-affairs committee.

A non-governmental organization named the China Marriage and Family Affairs Consulting and Research Center will train the workers, and the Weiqing International Chain Group Co Ltd, the first marriage and finance firm in China, will carry out the plan.

"The project will go forward in at least five districts in Beijing this year," said Shu Xin, director of the research center. "We are now discussing details with the districts' departments of civil affairs."

The divorce rate in China has increased sharply in recent years. In 2010, 1.96 million couples applied for divorce, 14.5 percent more than that in 2009, while the average annual increase in the divorce rate since 2003 has been 7.6 percent, according to figures released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

The first such love-counseling office, used as a test, was established in Shanghai's Putuo district in 2007. Since then, three more of the offices have been set up in as many years in the Minhang and Pudong districts, as well as in Jinzhong city, Shanxi province.

"Through our counseling, 80 percent of the couples who came into our offices either decided against or delayed ending their marriages," Shu said.

Xu Xiaolin, a 41-year-old woman in Shanghai, is one of the beneficiaries. "I am extraordinarily grateful to the love-counseling office," she said. "Without it, my marriage was bound to disintegrate."

Last October, Xu felt that her world had collapsed when she discovered her husband had been having an affair for two years. After quarrelling with her husband, Xu made up her mind to say goodbye to him. A two-hour talk in the divorce-counseling room changed her mind.

"The counselor told me divorce should be used as the last resort," Xu said.

"They said it would be more worthwhile to talk to my husband rather than try to have a family with a second husband."

Shu Xin said love-counseling services have been made more effective over time.

"We plan to extend the practice nationwide and set up 1,000 offices in 100 cities within three years," Shu said.

The China Marriage and Family Affairs Consulting and Research Center will meanwhile train 10,000 social workers to better serve perplexed couples. Those who undergo the training must be at least 35 years old and have at least five years of marriage.

Marriage experts have welcomed the counseling, saying such work is needed to maintain the stability of families and, ultimately, of society.

"Many divorce cases can be avoided, although (reaching that goal) will require great efforts from social workers," said Lu Ye, a coach and writer focusing on marital relations in Changsha, capital of Hunan province.

"Divorce gravely harms children," Lu added. "That can be seen in the fact that young people whose parents have been divorced are more likely to commit crimes. Intact families are less likely to raise children who will go to prison."

Despite their goal of keeping couples together, experts said they are acting too late if they try to intervene in a marriage that is already headed toward a broken ending. To help prevent marital troubles from arising, they said colleges and middle schools should offer classes on family life.

"The instruction should inform students about the pitfalls that come with choosing a spouse, about adapting to life after marriage, about renewing love after marriage and about education for their children," said Xu Anqi, director of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences' family study center.

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