As her classmates played, five-year-old Hala sat near the window of her classroom waiting for her father to come pick her up. Ever since her parents got divorced, Hala hardly talks to anyone and keeps asking her mother one question: why couldn’t they live with her father anymore?
Hala’s parents are not alone in going through the trauma of divorce.
There were around 200,000 divorces in Egypt in 2017 according to a study conducted by the Ministry of Social Solidarity — more than 500 cases a day. It’s a huge number, says Ayman Abdel-Aziz, executive coordinator of Mawada (Cordiality), a project launched by the Ministry of Social Solidarity to raise awareness and educate youth about marriage in a bid to lower divorce rates. The project is targeting some 800,000 young people aged 18-25.
According to Abdel-Aziz, studies have shown that the largest number of divorces were in the three governorates of Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said. As a result, it was decided that the campaign will kick off in those three governorates where the largest number of youths and universities are also found.
The project’s initial phase, which will last until the summer, is now in full swing in Cairo, Helwan and Ain Shams universities in Greater Cairo as well as in the universities of Port Said and Alexandria. It will later be expanded to include other governorates.
Three-hundred university professors are currently taking courses, according to Abdel-Aziz, to enable them to deal with their students. “We want to raise the awareness of 42,000 students in these universities who are not yet married,” he said, adding that these awareness lectures will be a precondition for graduating.
The idea is to give those who are about to get married the skills they need to form stable families.
As for those already divorced, Abdel-Aziz said there are 200 conflict resolution offices affiliated to the family court of the Ministry of Justice.
The awareness and training of those yet unmarried or divorced cover the social, health and religious aspects of family life and divorce.
Staff in the marriage process, such as marriage registrars, will also take the courses.
The project also involves the launch of a YouTube channel and a radio programme, Bel Mawada Nekamel Hayatna (With cordiality we go on with our lives), Abdel-Aziz said.
Israa Farag, a play therapy psychologist, hopes the project is effective in helping families deal with the repercussions of divorce and that the awareness it creates will tackle the root causes of divorce.
According to Farag, divorce happens because of bad choices and because some couples have neither respect, amicability nor friendship towards each other. There is no flexibility, which is an important aspect in relationships.
She warned of the drastic psychological and social effects on children. Children feel insecure after their parents are divorced. They feel different from those around them, she said. A psychological gap is created, she said, its severity depending on the relationship between a child’s parents after the divorce.
On the social level, a child prefers to be isolated and is not able to communicate with other people and so has no friends, Farag warned, adding that it could affect schooling.
“Depending on the feedback from youth in the initial phase we will assess the advantages and needs of the campaign,” Abdel-Aziz said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 April, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Marriage management