from Africa in Transition

Are Rising African Divorce Rates a Social Good?

September 16, 2013

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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This is a guest post by Jim Sanders, a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are his personal views and do not reflect those of his former employers.

“A little-noticed trend is spreading in many of the world’s emerging economies,” Charles Kenny writes in a recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek; “more and more people are getting divorced.”

This can be a good thing. “In Africa, Asia, and Latin America,” Kenny explains, “divorce is both an indicator of, and force behind, social changes that have improved prospects for women, reduced gender inequality, and fueled development.” A divorce can spawn a sense of empowerment, which “has been associated [in women] with lower maternal mortality, higher levels of education [especially among girls], and greater economic opportunity.”

In some ways, Nigeria appears to fit the trend. One newspaper deemed Nigeria’s divorce rate high and increasing. The paper’s research showed that at the Customary Court, Ikeja, Lagos and the Customary Court, Ojo, Lagos, 354 applications for divorce were filed in the 2010-2012 period. “Ninety-three applications succeeded, thirty were withdrawn, while 231 are still pending in the two courts.”

But the paper viewed concomitant effects of divorce as socially negative, not economically positive. For example, divorce renders children vulnerable to vice and they can end up on the street. “Most children you find roaming the streets hawking are largely products of broken homes.” Society is put at risk, if children are not cared for, the paper noted.

Religious authorities in Kano might agree. In April, according to press accounts, the Kano State Hisbah Board “married off one thousand couples in the third batch of the Kano State sponsored mass wedding of divorcees, widows, and spinsters.” Reducing Kano’s rising divorce rate and providing women with a stable home and financial and social security represented a key aim of the endeavor.

Divorce can be, but is not necessarily, an economic boon in emerging market economies. Even if it is a boon, such economies remain hampered by broader macro-economic handicaps such as a lack of economic diversity, an insufficient variety of exports, lack of financial depth, and poor and corrupt governance, according to Patrick Zweifel, chief economist at Pictet Asset Management.

That said, divorce rates still matter enormously, for ordinary lives at society’s grassroots either hold economies together, or contribute to their fragmentation. We ignore them at our peril.

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nigeria

Development

Politics and Government

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