Divorce Destroys Generations Uruakpa

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Much of the debate about the growing gap between the rich and the poor in Africa focuses on the changing job force, the cost of living, and the tax and regulatory structure that hamstring businesses and employees. However nowadays stability of marriages, which tends to favour the rich, makes marriage a benchmark determining the gap between the two income groups.

Every week a greater number of married couples besieged customary courts in South West Nigeria praying for the dissolution of their marriages. Many disenchanted wives gripe over the poorness of care from their husbands, infidelity, loss of job as reasons for seeking divorce. Recent experience in many parts of Lagos reveals that poverty or low income is the major cause of the absence of marriage. Broken home tends to encounter more financial crisis worse, they pass the prospect of meager incomes and family instability on to their children, ensuring a continuing if not expanding cycle of economic distress.

Adenike Ayoade, an itinerant trader until recently was married, but her marriage of 15 unfulfilled years blessed with four children hit the rocks recently. Now the innocent children are living with their father's sister. The care these children receive at present, no matter how good, will still suffer quality parental love and affection needed for their growth. Simply put, whether or not a child's parents are married and stay married has a massive effect on their future prosperity and that of the next generation.

Fortunately government at all levels can play important roles in ensuring that all children reach their full income potential and do not languish in the poverty trap.

To understand the importance of marriage to prosperity, and what the determinants of a stable marriage are, it is important to look first at the evidence surrounding the effects of its alternatives--divorce, cohabitation, and out-of-wedlock births--on children and on income.

Divorce has many harmful effects on the income of families and future generations. As important as income is to the stability of marriages, little public attention is paid to the relationship between the breakdown of marriage and poverty. Understandably, mothers who are employed at the time of divorce are much less likely to become poor than mothers who are jobless. And mothers who are not employed at the time of divorce are prone to begging for sustenance as are single mothers who lose their jobs. Divorce is the main factor in determining the length of "poverty spells, particularly for women whose pre-divorce family income was in the bottom half of the income distribution. Divorce, then, poses the greatest threat to women in low-income families. Moreover, almost half of households with children move into poverty following divorce. Simply put, divorce has become too prevalent and affects an ever-increasing number of children.

The rate at which marriages crumble today especially among the low income earners is awesome unlike years past when homes were more stable. "In the 1950s, the rate of divorce was lower among high-income groups; by 1960, there was a convergence of rates among all socio-economic groups.14 In the mid-70s, more marriages ended in divorce," said a grand mother at Ikeja, Lagos. 15 An effect of collapsed marriages is a significant shift in the ratio of children deprived of married parents.

Divorce is linked to a number of serious problems beyond the immediate economic problem of lost income. Paul Adeniyi, 65, a community leader in Alagbado, Lagos, stated that other effects of divorce include: "the children of divorced parents are more likely to get pregnant and give birth outside of marriage, especially if the divorce occurred during their mid-teenage years, and twice as likely to cohabit than are children of married parents." Moreover, divorce appears to result in a reduction of the educational accomplishments of the affected children, weakens their psychological and physical health, and predisposes them to rapid initiation of sexual relationships and higher levels of marital instability. It also raises the probability that the children will never marry, especially the boys among them.

For a mother with children, divorce increases her financial responsibility and, typically, her hours of labour outside the home. Divorce and additional work hours also disrupt her network of support for parenting her children. These additional stresses take their toll: Single mothers experience increased levels of physical and mental illness, addictions, and even suicide following divorce. All of these outcomes have an effect on family income.

Moreover, the vicious circle of divorce revolves round generations, since the children of divorce are more likely to experience the same problems and pass them on to their own children.

After a divorce, the largest asset--the family home--frequently is sold and the proceeds used to finance the divorce and start new homes. In addition, evidence indicates that the income of divorced households with children drops significantly, thereby lessening the likelihood of asset formation. Many more now cohabit rather than marry.

Cohabitation doubles the rate of divorce, and the rates double again for those who cohabit before marriage with someone other than a future spouse.35 Many cohabiting couples have children in the home and many adults per who live together outside of marriage and beget children and then marry will divorce. Also children who have lived in a household with cohabiting parents spend some of their childhood in a single-parent home.

Given this high level of disruption, cohabitation can be a good marker of future weakness in household income and the economic and social situation of children in these unions. The problem is further aggravated by the growing cultural acceptance of what used to be described as "illicit" relationships.

The risk of divorce is tied directly to factors in one's family background and such other factors as the divorce or cohabitation of one's parentsa and being born to a very young mother.

The risk doubles for those who live together before marriage, and doubles yet again if the person cohabits with someone other than the current spouse.

Other risks for divorce include a prior divorce;f marrying into a step family;g getting married as a teen (divorce rates are lower among women married after age 25 than among those married as teenagers);a and, especially, getting married as a pregnant teenager.h

The divorce rate doubles for young married couples if the husband is unemployed at any time during the first year of marriage, and is 50 per cent higher again if both are unemployed.a One out of every four wives earn more or only slightly less income than their husbands and few wives who have university education to earn more income than their husbands. However a large number of wives trade in markets, but this has raised the divorce rate as conflict arises at homes because many husbands cannot stomach their wives divided loyalty. Today, the children who are most likely to attain a good income as adults have parents who are married; they are well educated, get a job, abstain from sex until marriage, and marry before having children of their own.

Having a baby out of wedlock usually derails progress toward achieving a stable family structure and income. Teenage out-of-wedlock births have however risen in recent times in most communities in Nigeria. Fewer than one-third of those who have a baby before reaching age 18 complete high schools.

In addition, almost half of the mothers of out-of-wedlock children will go on to have another child out of wedlock. The vast majority of out-of-wedlock births occur to mature adults age 20, 30 or above. The increase in these births among older women accompanies a decline in teenage out-of-wedlock births and abortions.

Some non-governmental organisations have been studying divorce rate in country with the aim of helping those affected, women and children esp ecially. Co-coordinator Uplifting Women through Farming, Annabel Uruakpa, said her organisation does not encourage divorce because "first and foremost God frowns against divorce and it affects children emotionally because they need a healthy and peaceful environment to advance in all sense." Maybe other organisations may help spread her gospel.