The divorce rate in several cities in China spiked in March as couples emerged from the government-mandated lockdown that sought to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak, Bloomberg Quint reported. This sudden rise may serve as a cautionary tale to countries, including the United States, where scores of couples are cooped up in order to self-isolate.
Central China’s Xian and Sichuan province’s Dazhou recorded high divorce numbers early in March, causing tedious backlogs at government offices, said the report.
Meanwhile, in Miluo in Hunan province, “staff members didn’t even have time to drink water” as so many couples had queued up to file for divorce, said the report quoting information from the city government’s website.
A Shanghai-based lawyer Steve Li said he witnessed a 25% increase in his case-load since mid-March when the lock-down was partially lifted.
“Infidelity used to be the No. 1 reason clients showed up at my office door. People have time to have love affairs when they’re not at home,” he said. “People need space. Not just for couples — this applies to everybody.”
Since 2003 when laws were first relaxed, China’s divorce rate has seen a gradual increase. Over 1.3 million couples got divorced that year and the figures have been steadily surging for 15 years, climbing to 4.5 million in 2018, said the report quoting statistics from the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Last year alone, 4.15 million Chinese couples got divorced.
The figures appear to have caught Chinese officials on the back foot as many had hoped that couples being confined for a prolonged period would result in a baby boom. In China, the birthrate has nosedived sharply since the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949. The decline comes even as the one-child policy was eased in 2013.
The lockdown witnessed not just an increase in the divorce rate, but also a rise in incidents of domestic violence. Police officials, in a county alongside the Yangtze River in central Hubei province, close to where the pandemic broke out, recorded 162 reports of domestic violence in February alone which is three times more than the 47 that was reported in the same month in 2019, the report said quoting a Shanghai-based online publication Sixth Tone.
Experts say that even after an epidemic of this magnitude subsides, its economic and psychological fallouts can linger on for months. The report further cites a study of people in Hong Kong amid the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, which notes that “one year after the outbreak, SARS survivors still had elevated stress levels and worrying levels of psychological distress." Notably, divorce in Hong Kong’s general population in 2004 had also shot up by 21% than the 2002 levels, the report said.
So far, China has recorded more than 80,000 Covid-19 cases and has seen over 3,300 deaths.