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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 11:57 GMT
'They look straight through me'
Divorce rates in the UK are among the highest in the world, but British Asian single parents are still stigmatised.

Anecdotal evidence indicates divorce rates are rising among the UK's Asian population, leading to a growing group of one-parent families who find themselves vulnerable and ostracised from the community.

Lucy Greenwell, producer of a BBC Radio 4 programme Asian Single Parents, looked at the issue.

Wedding rings
Wedded bliss? The UK has one of the highest divorce rates

Ten years ago Lil, a Sikh mother from Birmingham, gathered her four children into the car and told her husband she was going shopping for dinner.

After months of secret planning, she drove away for the last time.

She recalls her parents' reaction when she arrived home and told them the truth about her marriage - that her husband was a violent alcoholic and she wanted a divorce.

"They were like 'What are going to do now? What are we going to tell people?' "

The disapproval she met was not confined to her own family.

At community gatherings childhood friends treated her with disdain.

They would talk to my family, but ignore me
Lil,
Sikh single mother

"They would look straight through me. They would talk to my family, but ignore me."

In the past, the success of arranged marriages has been a source of pride for first and second generation Asians in the UK.

But the emphasis put on the values of marriage and family in Britain's Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities is still strong, and there is a stigma attached to divorce and separation.

Reasons for the rising divorce rate vary.

The impact of living in a Western culture where one in four marriages ends in divorce, a decline in close-knit community living, and the growing education and independence of Asian wives are all cited by community leaders as possible reasons for the increasing failure of both arranged and "love" marriages.

Mother's disapproval

The community's disapproval of single parenthood means that divorcees frequently find themselves outside the tight-knit community and family structures.

Lil, for instance, now lives with her teenage children, supports herself financially, and has little to do with her Asian community.

She thinks she is complete - but she has got a daughter, her husband is still alive, they are not together, therefore she is socially and psychologically incomplete
Muslim mother of single parent

Naheed, 36, the Muslim single mother of 12-year-old Faizah, divorced her husband after a one-year marriage in Dubai.

She returned to live near her family in the UK - but it took her mother and four sisters three years to come to terms with the divorce and offer her support.

Social changes

Naheed resents this stigma, especially since her mother, originally from Pakistan, was a single mother herself, who had six children in her care by the age of 28.

Despite their shared experience, social conventions suppress her mother's sympathy and she cannot accept her daughter's status as a single mother.

"She thinks she is complete - but she has got a daughter, her husband is still alive, they are not together, therefore she is socially and psychologically incomplete," she said.

A generational rift whereby older traditionalists are squaring up to younger Asians has been growing recently.

They do not want any other families or neighbours to know their business and that is drummed into us - especially to women
Ramesh Telwar,
Counsellor

Some single parents claim social changes, like rising divorce rates, mean elders of the community are clinging tighter than ever to the values and standards they left the sub-continent with, 30, 40, 50 years ago.

Lil and Naheed argue this has left sections of the UK Asian community less tolerant of social shifts than their counterparts on the Asia sub-continent itself.

The problem is made worse by a reluctance on the part of Asian women to access existing mainstream support of self-help groups in the wake of divorce, for financial, psychological or childcare help.

Counsellor Ramesh Telwar says: "Generally the Asian community is a closed, tight-lipped community.

"They do not want any other families or neighbours to know their business and that is drummed into us - especially to women."

Self-help

The social shifts increasingly impacting on our community mean that this is a growing problem
Nasima Khan,
Asian Women's Lone Parents Association

Nasima Khan has launched the Asian Women's Lone Parents Association (AWLPA) based in Camden, London.

It is the first self-help group whose title identifies it as offering help specifically to Asian single mothers.

AWLPA recently held its first conference aiming to raise awareness of the issues.

It was also, Nasima says, intended as "a symbol to the outside world that this problem is not a one-off, it is not isolated cases, it is not a small insignificant number".

"The social shifts increasingly impacting on our community mean that this is a growing problem."

Radio 4's documentary Asian Single Parents broadcast on Monday 30 January 2006 can be heard at Radio 4's Listen again page.


SEE ALSO:
Forced marriage 'could be banned'
05 Sep 05 |  UK Politics


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