News on Marriage: Kosovars tolerate fake marriages
- Kosovars tolerate fake marriages
Growing numbers of men are divorcing in order to temporarily marry foreigners to obtain resident status in the West.
Jeton Musliu Last Modified: 29 Nov 2010 12:23 GMT
Each time she goes to sleep, Valbona, 35, from Peja, western Kosovo, looks at her wedding photograph taken 13 years ago. Beside her, she sees her smiling husband.
Today, that moment is just a memory. Two years ago, her husband remarried a German woman. Not only did Valbona, mother of their four children aged four to 11, know of his plan, she approved it.
This is because Valbona is not really divorced in the eyes of her family or the wider community. Many Kosovar Albanian men divorce their first wives by mutual consent, departing for western Europe where they find new spouses who enable them to obtain residency papers.
They leave their children behind in Kosovo so that they can pose as single men and remarry fast. Once they have permanent residency in Germany, or other EU states, they divorce their second wives, go back to their first ones and bring the family to the West.
Germany is a popular destination for Kosovars because there is already a large Albanian expatriate population living there.
The women that these Kosovar Albanians marry in the West believe they have found ideal, attentive husbands. However, once the men have gained permanent residency in their host country - after five years of marriage to a citizen in Germany - they often demand a divorce.
Valbona is confident that her husband will do the same. "The 'divorce' was difficult, but as both of us knew its purpose, it was somewhat easier," explains Valbona.
Unknown to his German wife, Valbona has already spent one summer holiday with her ex-husband back in Kosovo.
Benefits override taboo
In the past, Albanian families did not accept divorce so easily. But the taboo has been forgotten now that Kosovar Albanians have discovered the usefulness of divorcing and remarrying foreigners in order to gain papers to live in western Europe.
Each month, Valbona's ex-husband sends back money for her to spend on their four children. Such money counts for a lot in a country as poor as Kosovo, where 40 per cent of the population is unemployed and the average monthly salary of those in work is only about $265 (200 euros).
Kosovars who have moved to western European countries send home $701m (530m euros) each year. These remittances account for around 13 per cent of the country's GDP, according to the Kosovo Central Bank.
Against a background of such economic hardship, many people feel desperate to obtain the right to live and work in western Europe. But obtaining a visa to enter the EU is difficult.
Unlike some of their Balkan neighbours, Kosovars do not enjoy visa-free travel within the EU. Nor is a relaxation of visa requirements imminent. It is almost impossible for Kosovars to gain German citizenship unless they are born there, or enter the country as an infant and go to school there.
But adult Kosovars, like other non-EU foreigners, can request permanent resident status in Germany, or Niederlassungserlaubnis, if they have legally resided in Germany for more than five years - the grounds for which are normally either higher educational studies or marriage to a German national.
Rising divorce rate
In the Kosovar capital of Pristina, a city with a population of about 600,000, officials recorded 127 divorces in 2007. That number might appear low by western European standards but it is high for Kosovars. Municipal officials in Pristina recorded just 36 divorces as recently as 2003.
In parallel with the increased number of divorces, marriages to foreign citizens have also risen, mostly to residents of western countries. In 2009, officials in Pristina recorded 98 such marriages between Kosovar men and women from the West.
Sonja, a German from Stuttgart, was the target of a man seeking permanent residency in Germany. Now in her early thirties, she married an Albanian from the Mitrovica area of northern Kosovo 13 years ago.
Jobless and a little lonely at the time, she was charmed when a good-looking, dark-haired man, a few years older than her, approached her in a café in Stuttgart and said hello.
She had no idea that this supposedly single man had, in fact, married at the age of 18 in Kosovo and obtained a divorce before coming to Stuttgart.
They soon married, after which Sonja threw herself into learning the Albanian language and adopting the modest lifestyle of a Kosovar housewife. "I became more Albanian than an Albanian woman," she recalls.
Unusually, Sonja's husband did not demand a divorce after five years. Apparently because by then, they had a little boy whose fate complicated matters. Sonja's husband wanted to ensure he would enjoy sole custody of their son before he left.
They finally divorced only two years ago, after Sonja agreed to leave her son, then eight, with her ex-husband. He remarried his first wife, and now lives outside Stuttgart with her and the son he had by Sonja.
Sonja does not know the whole story of her marriage, but some Kosovar Albanians living in the neighbourhood are well aware of her ex-husband's background. She knows only that her ex-husband remarried "an Albanian woman who didn't have any papers".
Tradition pushed aside
Years ago, only infertility could legitimately separate couples, says 71-year-old Hamdi Veliu, from Polac, a village in central Kosovo.
"If the wife couldn't have a baby, she had two choices; to divorce, or stay," he explains.
"Nowadays, the situation is very bad," Veliu says, going on to talk disapprovingly of a Kosovar he knows whose first wife's family pressurised him into bringing her to Germany before he had even divorced his second German wife.
Most Kosovar Albanians are Muslims, but there is also a small Catholic minority. The clergy of both religions view matrimony as sacrosanct.
"Marriage is permanent and has no time-limit; it is eternal," says Bedri Syla, an imam from Skenderaj in central Kosovo, who views these temporary divorces as a mockery and sacrilegious.
His views are fully echoed by Don Shan Zefi, a Catholic priest in Pristina. "Marriages like these are not permissible morally, psychologically or legally," he says.
'The sacrifice is worth it'
However, Agron, 40, says it is worth compromising on morals and traditions in order to obtain the European dream.
A carver of gravestones, he now lives with his first wife in a village 30km from Stuttgart, having completed the long and difficult process of divorcing his second German wife in order to remarry his first Kosovar one.
"The sacrifice is worth it, as long as you don't forget your [first] wife and children back in Kosovo," Agron maintains. "For me, living here is like paradise."
In order to attain a similar 'paradise', Valbona and her four children must wait for at least another three years.
Asked how she feels about her husband's second marriage, she says: "For me it simply doesn't matter ... miserable economic conditions forced us to do this."
Jeton Musliu is a Pristina-based journalist. This article was produced as part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, an initiative of the Robert Bosch Stiftung and ERSTE Foundation, in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.
Mass weddings grow in Yemen
In the Arab world's poorest state, a new breed of wedding ceremony has emerged out of financial hardship.
Oliver Holmes Last Modified: 15 Nov 2010 13:54 GMT
As is customary in Yemen's highly conservative culture, Muhammed al-Khouja has never met his fiancée. The couple have been engaged for almost two years and set multiple wedding dates, but every time the day draws near, the wedding is delayed. Yemen is full of single young men like Muhammed who cannot afford to marry.
Weddings are pricey in Yemen - bachelors have to pay their fiancée's family to marry their daughter. The groom and his father split the cost of a dowry to the bride's father, normally around $5,000, and the family of the groom is also expected to pay for the wedding expenses.
In the capital Sana'a, this means renting a giant beige tent, filling it with cushions, hiring a local band, covering the surrounding alleyways in light bulbs and blaring music out of colossal speakers fixed to street lamps for three days.
Until recently, the groom's side also paid for sizeable lamb lunches and the guests' qat, a mildly narcotic leaf chewed during afternoons and especially at weddings, but it is now generally acknowledged that these are unreasonable additional expenses.
In March, Muhammed's father told him that to cut costs, Muhammed would get married jointly with his three brothers, a growing trend in Yemen, the poorest of all the Arab states. Now the idea has been taken a step further and a new breed of ceremony has emerged out of hardship - mass weddings ranging from 10 to more than 1,500 couples.
Last month, in Yemen's largest mass wedding to date, 1,600 couples tied the knot. The grooms filled a sports hall in the capital, each dressed in traditional flowing robes, with black and green scarves wrapped around their heads and holding long, curved golden swords.
In Yemen, weddings are a single-sex affair and the brides had their own separate parties at home. The couples were to meet later that night, many for the first time.
The event was organised by the Orphans Charitable Organisation and sponsored by Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, a brother of the Saudi sovereign.
"All the grooms are orphans," organiser Abdul Rajeh explained. "Orphans have a really hard time getting married as they don't have the financial support of a father to help them with the dowry."
The festivities included a morning of dancing, poetry and short comedic plays and the front few rows of seats were filled with Saudi dignitaries with a sea of the grooms' black and green headscarves behind them. Even leading Yemeni Islamic scholar Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani attended, a man the US has labelled a "specifically designated global terrorist".
Spirits were high and the grooms unsheathed their swords and danced with them above their heads for some of the more popular songs. Verses of the Quran were read and VIP guests delivered long speeches filled with accolades to Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is also Yemen's biggest funder of Islamic institutions and analysts say Saudi Arabia's philanthropic work here is part of a wider scheme to exert influence in the Arabian Peninsula.
In addition to funding the event, Prince Aziz donated a generous sum of 200,000 Yemeni Rials ($900) to each groom as a contribution to his dowry.
"By funding our wedding and helping us with the dowry, Prince Aziz is showing us that he is the father of Yemen's orphans," said 25-year-old groom Abdul Ghani at the wedding feast. After the morning's entertainment, the grooms were bused over to a hall on the other side of the capital to enjoy a lunch of tender lamb, soft Yemeni bread drenched in spicy yogurt and sweet pomegranates.
The donation will only cover a fifth of the cost of the dowry Abdul Ghani will have to pay, but he says the money helps. "I've been dreaming of marriage since I was a boy. This is the happiest day of my life, we are all so happy," he said.
Mass weddings are not only a Yemeni phenomenon. Iran has hosted mass weddings since the mid-1990s, in part to aid the poor and in part to prevent young people from marrying late, fearing premarital sex.
In South Korea, controversial Unification Church founder and self-proclaimed "Messiah" Reverend Sun Myung Moon has married tens of thousands of young couples from around the globe.
But mass weddings in Yemen are a cultural craze. As in Iran, there is a fear among Yemenis that if a man cannot afford to marry he will look for sex elsewhere. In much of the country, friendship with a woman before marriage is considered shameful and worried parents endeavour to marry off their sons and daughters as fast as possible.
There is no stigma attached to marrying en-mass and local charities, the government, tribal sheikhs and the military have started organising weddings.
Even private companies have jumped on the bandwagon in a bizarre gesture of corporate social responsibility.
A corporate wedding
MTN, a South Africa-based telecommunications company that operates mobile phone networks in Yemen, has organised an annual mass wedding for its local Yemeni staff for the past few years. At the most recent ceremony, 30 colleagues were married simultaneously.
A senior development manager at MTN Yemen said that the aim of the wedding was to "make employees loyal to the company and to raise morale".
Yellow posters baring the MTN logo covered the walls of the hall and an MTN jingle from a TV advertisement would occasionally blast out of the speakers. At one point during the ceremony, the CEO of MTN in Yemen appeared on televisions positioned around the room and talked at length about how MTN is "allowing its employees to settle down".
But at this corporate wedding, the grooms make relatively decent salaries and are not trapped into single life like many of those at Yemen's charity-organised weddings.
"This is not my real wedding day," whispered one of the grooms, adding with a smile: "I'll be married in a couple months, this is just a good party."
Good sex 'comes to those who wait'
Couples who avoid sex before marriage end up having happier, more stable relationships and a better time in bed, according to psychologists. An American study backs the straitlaced view that sex should wait until one's wedding night.
Malaysia court rules child marriage 'illegal'
By Jennifer Pak
BBC News, Kuala Lumpur
The marriage of an 11-year-old Muslim girl to a 41-year-old man has been ruled illegal in Malaysia.
An Islamic court judge found the father of the child had had no intention of marrying her off, and that there were elements of threat and force involved.
Muslim girls in Malaysia under the age of 16 are allowed to get married with the permission of the Islamic court.
The case prompted women's rights groups to call on the government to increase the minimum age of marriage to 18.
The 41-year-old Muslim man took the 11-year-old girl as his fourth wife in February.
The judge ruled that the union was illegal, not because of the age of the child, but because the couple did not follow Islamic law.
One organisation, Sisters in Islam, says child marriages continue in Malaysia because of a belief that Muslim girls can be married off once they reach puberty.
Earlier this month, a 14-year-old girl married a 23-year-old teacher in a public ceremony in Kuala Lumpur.
Kidderminster children re-enact Muslim wedding
7:30am Monday 13th December 2010
CHILDREN and parents at a Kidderminster primary school attended a winter wedding with a difference, with a re-enactment of a traditional Muslim ceremony.
In the run up to the big day, nursey and reception pupils at St Mary’s CE Primary School enlisted help from parents to prepare food, jewellery and flowers.
The event, on Thursday, November 26 was organised by early years teachers Sue Edwards and Karen King.
Mrs King said: “This term’s topic was weddings and we have a large proportion of Muslim families at our school so wanted to look at the how a Muslim ceremony might be different to the traditional weddings that the children may have been to.”
Groom Tyler Trow, 5 and his bride Mizzy Reeve,5 took part in marriage traditions such as signing the book, exchanging flower necklaces and feeding one another cake and water.
Fellow pupils and their parents celebrated by joining the newly-weds in a meal and dancing.
Mrs King added: “It was wonderful. Everybody had a really nice time and it was nice for the parents to share in the celebration with us.”
Bangladesh: Muslim Man Beaten to Death by His Four Wives…
Reverse honor killing?…
Dhaka, Dec 22: A 46-year-old man, who kept his multiple marriages a secret from his four wives, was beaten up to death in Bangladesh, local media reported on Wednesday, Dec 22.
According the sources, the victim, namely Yunus Bepari, an auto-rickshaw driver, attended a marriage party with two of his wives. Co-incidentally, he had an encounter with his third wife and situation revealed that the victim had another wife (fourth) in another village.
The four wives, who were unaware of their husband’s multiple marriages, beat him up mercilessly and when Bepari was taken to the near by hospital, he was declared dead.
According the Islamic Shariah (law), a Muslim man is allowed to take up to four wives, but that should be with the consent of his existing wives.