Issue - December 2011
And they lived happilyâ€¦
For a few months
The divorce percent in Bolivia is enormously high; 72 percent to be precise, which is one of the highest in the world. But what makes it so difficult for the Bolivians to stick together for better or for worse? Is there simply too much â€śworseâ€ť going on in the Bolivian society?
Photo: Alfonso Romero
When walking the lively streets of Cochabamba you will, at any given time, notice the huge amount of bridal shops (if you are a girl that is) and newlyweds having their photos taken in the centre of town. Most of these couples look happy, though young. Very young actually!
But the Cochabambinos sure do look as if they enjoy their holy matrimonies.
It may therefore come as a surprise that 72 percent of all these marriages will end in divorces. Seventy-two percent! That is among the highest percentages in the world, if not the highest. A quick tour on Google shows that it is normally the Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Denmark and Finland that tend to top these lists with percentages around 50 percent. For some reason, Bolivia never appears on these listsâ€¦
That 72 percent is indeed a fact though, if you are to believe a survey from 2010 made by the German Technical Cooperation (now called GIZ: DeutcheGesellschaftfĂĽrInternationaleZusammenarbeit)*. The survey also states that the department with the highest number of divorces is La Paz, followed by Cochabamba in second.
But what is the reason for this?
Well, if you ask the president, Evo Morales, the boom of telenovelas in television are to blame, because they inspire the Bolivians to be unfaithful**. And infidelity is for sure one of the main factors that lead to divorces, according to the data of the survey. But the lawyers, who work with divorces on a daily basis, also identify a series of other factors.
Ann Torrez, who used to work as a lawyer in the family court in Cochabamba and is now a self employed family lawyer, says:
Photo: Alfonso Romero
â€śMany couples get married when they are very young, because the girl accidentally gets pregnant or simply to get out of their homes. But often, it doesnâ€™t work because they are too immature, and therefore they get divorced shortly after. Economical problems are also a main factor. Here in Bolivia, it is a big problem that many young people only have temporary jobs; one year you have a great job, and the next year you have got nothing. The Bolivian society is a macho-society; if the woman suddenly earns more money than the man, itâ€™s hard for him, and unfortunately cases like that often result in physical violenceâ€ť.
She also says that it is mainly the women who divorce the men, and that the reason for that probably is that the many Bolivian women are highly educated and independent nowadays.
So apparently, the women are the ones making the decisions, and are therefore the real experts here. To test this theory, we have met with two of these aforementioned strong women to hear their stories. They both want to be anonymous.
â€śI got married when I was 20 years old and was married for 13 years. Then I found out that my husband had an affair with one of his colleagues. We stayed together for 6 months after that, trying to sort things out, but I didnâ€™t work. I ended up divorcing him. We have a son together, so it has been important to us that we stay friends, and we have a very good relationship today.
I think that many Bolivians get divorced because they get married very young and are therefore very immature. Bolivians live with their parents for a long time, so for them, marriage is a door to freedom. Abuse of alcohol, violence, and cheating are also major reasons for the women to get divorced. But the women cheat as wellâ€¦ They are just better at hiding it.â€ť
Photo: Aida Jones
â€śMy case is not a typical Bolivian divorce case. I was 18 when I got married. My father got cancer and had to leave the country with my mother to get cured, but I was studying in Cochabamba, so I had to stay. At that time I was dating a guy, who raped me. I got pregnant and was all alone, so I ended up marring a guy who told me he loved me and would take care of me and the child.
Unfortunately he had other intentions; he was only interested in my fatherâ€™s money. He ended up scamming him and stole a lot of money from him. And then, I divorced him, even though my father wanted me to stay with him, so he could get the money back.
My first marriage lasted three years and after a few years I got married again. I am still together with my second husband, who takes good care of my two childrenâ€ť.
Both of these testimonies show Bolivian women who have married at a very early age and later regretted their decisions. For whatever reasons; socioeconomic, cultural or religious, these cases are not isolated in Bolivia. It is unclear how this trend can be reversed as the overarching causes are unclear, besides encouraging longer periods of consideration for young couples before tying the knot there is not much that can be done about the high divorce rate in Bolivia. In these worrying times, we at the Cochabanner have only one wish â€“ an urging plea to all divorcing couples: in the wise words of The Simpsonsâ€™ Heather Lovejoy, â€śWonâ€™t somebody PLEASE, THINK of the CHILDREN!!â€ť
La Cancha is the biggest marketplace in Cochabamba by a long stretch. Long before I got a chance to check it out for myself I was bombarded with information and questions about the cityâ€™s centre of fresh produce, cheap clothes and pirated media â€“ independent first impressions are hard to make when every local wants to give me the rundown on their beloved markets. .