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Migrant workers struck in loosening wedlock
Updated: 2005-11-25 08:47

Grassroots courts have found that divorces were increasing among Chinese migrant workers, especially those who work far away from home to seek better wages.

Migrant workers await trains outside a trian station. They leave for cities in the hope to seek a better life. [newsphoto]
"Divorces now take about half of the rural lawsuits at our court," said Yang Kuisan, the presiding judge of Jisuo Township in Tengzhou, a city in east China's Shandong Province. "More divorces can be attributed to long-time separation between the couples with one side working far away."

A Chinese fairy tale of husband-wife separation has inspired many couples for generations, but has proved impractical for modern rural couples with one side working far away from home all year round.

In the traditional tale, Niu Lang and Zhi Nu are separated by the Milky Way in heaven and are in charge of cattle herding, and spinning and weaving, respectively. They only see each other for one night out of every year.

A sullen couple met with each other for the first time in five years at a court in southwest China's Chongqing municipality in early November.

They met for a divorce.

"To be frank, I have a boyfriend in Shenzhen, so my marriage exists only in name. This time, I came back for a final settlement," said the young woman who asked not to be named.

"Most migrant workers have improved themselves after having worked in the relatively richer areas. Divorces are inevitable when their wives or husbands can not keep abreast with them," said Yu Zhenghai, the presiding judge of Fenshui Court in Wanzhou District in Chongqing Municipality.

Misunderstandings, extramarital affairs and economic factors are the major causes of the divorces.

Most divorcees are young. About 83 percent are aged between 25 to 35, according to a survey carried out by Tengzhou Municipal Court in Shandong.

"Young couples usually get married in their early twenties in the rural areas and can be immature and rash about wedlock. After marriage, they show less tolerance towards each other than the generations of their parents or grandparents would," Yang Kuisan said.

For better or worse, society and legal procedures are now more tolerant of divorce. The amended law on marriage in China stresses freedom of marriage and divorce, as makes the legal procedures easier.

To avoid divorce among migrant workers, experts advised the couples to stay together as long as possible.

But most couples can not work outside together, for one side has to stay home to take care of the farmland, the old or young family members and other family chores, said Hu Xiuzhong, a professor with Chongqing Three Gorges College.

"The new generations should be educated to be careful about getting married, and when temporarily separated, they should keep in close touch by calling or writing to each other to cement their matrimonial union," Hu said.

China has about 120 million farmers-turned migrant workers in cities, most of whom leave their spouses or children behind.

About 1.6 million Chinese couples divorced in 2004, an increase of 21.2 percent from the previous year, according to statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

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