Foreign residents in Malta mostly stand back from the current divorce debate, viewing it with amusement, sadness or incredulity. But while it won’t affect them whichever way the referendum goes – for or against the potential introduction of divorce – they still have opinions. It’s enlightening to hear their views as we can glimpse what the outside world extracts from the issue and how Malta is being perceived by those not so up close and personal to it. Here, Rhi, a mid-20-something expat from the UK and author of the ‘Malta: moving on, up & away‘ blog, gives us her views in this guest post. She focuses on the possible link between domestic violence and Malta not having divorce.
I’ve put off writing about this for a few reasons. Mainly, because it doesn’t affect me. Although divorce is not legal in Malta, as a British citizen, if I were to get married here and need a divorce, I could just move back to England and get it. I’m also very ignorant of Malta’s local politics and politicking.
However, despite all this, I can’t help forming an opinion on the matter. My interest was fuelled by this interesting viewpoint by Caroline Muscat. So first off, the facts.
1. It’s 2011 and in Malta there is no divorce. It is a predominantly Catholic country which sees divorce as a ‘sin’ and has very strong family values.
2. Couples can separate and live apart, but they cannot remarry. While this is something (at least), it is frowned upon; women are bound to experience discrimination, as will any future children they may have with a new partner.
3. One in four Maltese women suffers domestic violence and abuse, according to the Domestic Violence Commission.
When you think that Malta is one of the smallest countries in the world with a population of approximately 412,966, then you can see how one in four is a shockingly high statistic. In my opinion there is a clear link between the fact that people cannot get divorced and the number of women suffering this awful abuse; this link should not be ignored.
Women are made to feel that they are the epicentre of the family. They alone shoulder the responsibility of holding it together, setting a good example to their children (a good example being ‘long lasting marriage’ and NOT ‘personal happiness’.) and are basically required to ‘put up and shut up’. Women feel that they have no choice but to stay living with their husbands, whatever may happen. Infidelity, unhappiness, the end of love, violence, emotional abuse…
If divorce were legalised, I am certain that this statistic would decrease dramatically. Couples that are long since out of love would not feel socially forced to live under the same roof. When two people grow apart or something happens to make the marriage break down and they are forced to live together for the rest of their lives, it is no wonder that tempers flare. Especially when men know they can get away with it, and that the church, government and society is fighting their corner. But who is fighting for these women?
And it’s not just the women. A relationship doesn’t have to be violent to bring great unhappiness. There will be married couples out there, they’ve fallen out of love, may even be in love with someone else, but are stuck with their original spouse. Maybe they haven’t spoken a word in years. Can you imagine the loneliness? For the men and the women!
For a real idea of the extent of this problem, read this article here and this one here for stills from a You Tube video of scene a witness filmed in Paceville on a mobile of a woman being beaten by her supposed ‘boyfriend’. As Caroline’s Muscat’s article on it says: “It is not an isolated incident… As news of the incident spread like wildfire, the abuser got away with a slap on the wrist. The victim’s boyfriend – Emanuel Sammut, 41, of Birkirkara – was fined €175 for disturbing the peace, offending public morals and being drunk. What about the violence?”
The video of the abuse caught on tape and uploaded to You Tube has since been removed. Disturbing as the evidence no doubt was, it should have been the most terrifying and shocking wake up call this country needs. What is your opinion on this?
A friend of mine, Laura, agrees that those subject to domestic violence and abuse should have the law on their side and should be able to file for a divorce. But she doesn’t believe that those who have simply ‘grown apart’ should divorce. After all, what was the point in getting married in the first place? Wouldn’t this totally undermine everything that marriage is about, and effectively make it an obsolete idea?
Is there a way to legalise but limit divorce?
The fact of the matter is that Malta is in the EU now and there are certain expectations placed on it. Is it acceptable for Malta’s civil society to be so influenced by the church? Be so ‘behind the times’ compared to that of other EU countries? No, I don’t think so. Why should the people of Malta be deprived of something that is so life altering yet seen as a basic human right in its EU cousins?
Would the splitting of church and state really be such a bad thing? Of course not, Catholic people are catholic people, whether divorce is legalised or not. It doesn’t mean they have to get divorced; it’s not forcing anything upon them. It’s just giving others, Catholic or not, a chance at a new, happier and possibly much safer life.
On the upcoming referendum on the potential introduction of a divorce law in Malta, I highly doubt, due to the influence of the church, that the pro-divorce movement will see its wishes prevail. What are your thoughts on divorce? Does it surprise you that in an EU country it’s still not legal? Do you think there could be a link between no divorce and such high domestic violence statistics?
Photo: Greg Robleto