Migrant worker life hard on marriages

BEIJING – Provinces that export labor topped a list of places whose populations contained the largest number of divorcees in the first quarter of the year.

Experts said that dubious distinction resulted from the fact that many couples in such places tend to be separated for long stretches of time.

“The current tendency to move for work has placed obstacles before the reunion of partners that work apart from each other, making divorce a more likely result,” said Xia Xueluan, a sociology professor at Peking University.

 Around 465,000 couples untied the knot across the country in the first three months of this year, a 17.1-percent increase from the number for last year, figures released by the Ministry of Civil Affairs show. That meant 5,166 married couples got divorced every day.

At the top of the list was Southwest China’s Sichuan province, where 38,228 couples cut their conjugal ties in the first quarter. Second place went to East China’s Shandong province, where the number of divorces was 29,367.

In both Sichuan and Shandong, millions of young residents have moved to more prosperous cities along China’s coasts, leaving their spouses at home.

“Young migrant workers feel unrestrained in big cities,” Xia said. “And they are prone to seeking comfort, instead of thinking about their wives, who take care of farmland, the children and the old folks at home.”

Marriage experts also attributed 80 percent of divorces to extramarital affairs, one-third of which can be tied to the separation of couples.

“Some migrant workers have never returned home for, say, three years,” said Shu Xin, director of the China Marriage and Family Affairs Consulting and Research Center, a non-governmental organization.

“That causes rifts between couples.”

Shu cited a case he dealt with during the Spring Festival this year.

He said he met a young woman from Pingchang county, Sichuan province, who worked in Shanghai. Even though she had a 5-year-old child at home, she had divorced her husband and married a Shanghai resident. “She didn’t care that the man had been divorced himself and that his legs were crippled,” Shu said. “What she wanted was a foothold in the big city.”

He also said migrant workers, especially those who work in catering and entertainment industries, will encounter various temptations at work. Many are seduced by the rich, who can offer them a higher standard of living.

Sociologists said the government should do more to help prevent families, the foundation of society, from crumbling.

“Local women’s federations and governments in places that import labor should ensure migrant workers have a more colorful cultural life,” Xia said. “They should give subsidies to left-behind spouses, to help them visit their partners.”

Casual attitudes toward sex are also to blame, he said.

“People used to be faithful to their spouses,” Xia Xueluan said. “But social and family values have changed.”

 By Zhou Winting with China Daily

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