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Divorce Rate Surges across Country

While lovers and couples immersed themselves in the Valentine mood yesterday, new statistics have revealed an increase in couples breaking up across China in 2005.

The civil affairs bureau in Shanghai handled 30,745 divorces, up 12 percent over 2004. This did not include those divorced through the court, which is estimated at about a third of those through the bureau.

It means an average of more than 100 husbands and wives in Shanghai split each day in 2005.

At the national level, 1.12 million couples divorced through the Ministry of Civil Affairs organs across the country in 2005, up also by about 12 percent over the previous year.

Xu Anqi, a researcher with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and an expert on the marriage and divorce issue, said the rising divorce rate is normal.

Simplified divorce procedures adopted in China since October 2003 are widely regarded as a reason for the higher figure.

It takes only 10 yuan (US$1.20) and less than 20 minutes nowadays to get a divorce at a local civil affairs department, whereas previously the whole process could take a month.

Personality clashes have been cited as the main cause for marriage dissolutions in the city, Xu said. Fewer couples are willing to continue poor-quality marriages, especially when Chinese society has become more open and tolerant to divorcees.

About 70 percent of divorces in the country were initiated by women, Xu revealed.

Other main reasons listed include extra-marital affairs, which have become a serious issue in cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Economic disputes arising from factors such as failing businesses and being laid off by companies also triggered many divorces, according to Xu, who has extensively studied the divorce issue.

While the divorce rate in Shanghai may seem high, the city still trails the rates of northwest China's Xinjiang, northeast China provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning, and the nation's capital, Beijing.

Xu dismissed criticisms that the rising number of divorces was a sign of moral degradation. "Our study has shown that most people resort to divorce very prudently," she said.

Only 10 percent of divorces are undertaken rashly, Xu concluded in one of her studies.

But she expressed concerns about the growing number of young people who do not treat marriage or relationships seriously.

In some matchmaking gatherings in Shanghai, young people meet for only 8 minutes to find a potential partner.

Xu also believes that many of those belonging to the one-child generation are spoiled by their parents and grandparents and are less prepared for married life.

(China Daily February 15, 2006)

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