Compulsory marital counseling imperative
The planned move by the Lagos State Government to introduce compulsory marital effectiveness preparatory counselling for intending couples to ensure proper awareness of the state’s domestic and sexual violence status is a very welcome development.
This cause, which is the brainchild of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency (DSVA) in conjunction with the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, should be supported by anyone who has the sanctity of marriage and the progress of the family at heart.
Although there are arguments in some quarters positing that marriage is a personal issue that does not warrant the intrusion of the government, such a position is flawed.
In recent times, crime and legal reportage have been inundated with an alarming rate of divorce news stories and domestic and sexual violence cases in Lagos State. These forms of violence include spouse-beating, rape, spouse abandonment, early marriage, forced marriage, rampant divorce and even death.
While there is no well-documented study on the number of failed marriages and divorce cases, media reports are scary enough to suggest that divorce, and marital crises with their harrowing consequences are a social problem.
Marriage counsellors and psychologists have noted that marital violence such as wife-beating and spouse abandonment leaves people with wounded egos and traumatised psyches. They have also documented that child marriage exposes unprepared or ill-prepared children to the intricate and taxing responsibility of parenthood with devastating consequences on the community. Divorce as a quick fix for marital conflict, they have also submitted, gives the false impression that marriage is for perfect people.
According to sources from the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency (DSVA), between January 2022 and June 2022, the state recorded 2, 334 cases of domestic violence and four deaths, while between May 2019 and August 2021, it claimed to have 10,007 cases of domestic and sexual violence involving men, women and children.
Of these, 999 cases of physical assault in the matrimonial home and 19 deaths were recorded last year. Given the rampant state of divorce, domestic and sexual violence and the fact that these have a cumulative effect on society, it has become imperative that government should intervene at a very foundational level.
According to research reports, some of the major causes of marital crises and their attendant issues range from social incompatibility to psychological problems and psychosomatic conditions.
Studies also carried out by both academic research groups and opinion polls in major Nigerian cities, including Lagos, suggest that the high rate of divorce is attributable to any or a combination of the following: new socialisation rules of the modern times, social media, religion, lack of proper preparation, poverty, lack of mutual understanding, focus on the wedding than on marriage, need to impress and social pressure. Undoubtedly, there is also cultural and religious belief that promotes marriage and running a family as an index of success.
Observed in this light, marriage is then unwittingly contracted by many as the next level in life’s motivation ladder. And as Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, the Executive Secretary of DSVA noted, 80 per cent of couples reporting matrimonial abuses had pre-existing knowledge of their partner’s erratic behaviours before marriage but proceeded with the union. Indeed, this borders on a lack of preparedness for and lack of awareness of the expectations of marital life.
While the Lagos State Government deserves commendation for this initiative, it is paramount that whatever curriculum on domestic violence the government intends to introduce must be comprehensive.
The curriculum should go beyond such stated topics as marriage, love languages, gender and sex roles in marriage, and seek to address why people stay in an abusive relationship. It should also elaborate on the dignity of the human person irrespective of sex, rights of spouses in marriage, equality of persons, demands of modern society, moral and ethical behaviour modelling for children, and other such fundamental topics.
In preparing this new curriculum, the Lagos State government should shop for the requisite professional and technical expertise that meets the overall objective of the project. They should be wary of organisations with socially-destructive ideologies.
To this end, the government of Lagos State needs to collaborate with respectable and tested faith-based organisations with a track record of efficient family and human life management structure. It should also seek the assistance of associations and groups geared towards the sustainability of a wholesome family system.
The government should also use marriage registrars and counsellors with an exemplary track record of successful marital lives as facilitators of this curriculum. Persons with toxic relationships and turbulent marriages cannot be candidates to drive this initiative.
Since our culture and values promote family in its official and most extensive sense, other ministries, departments and agencies should be concerned about, and be watchful of pedagogic mechanisms contrived by self-serving ideologies to disparage the African sense of the family.
Everywhere in our schools, under the aegis of planned parenthood and empowered identity for children and youths, foreign NGOs are implanting destructive ideas of socialisation into the minds of impressionable students.
The values of the traditional family system in consensual conflict resolution, negotiation, mediation and other home-grown crisis-cushioning mechanisms are downgraded and condemned in favour of emotion-rending and traumatizing quick fixes to family disputes.
Besides marriage counselling for intended couples, the government should also provide multiple rounds of counselling for intending divorcees by genuinely collaborating with faith-based institutions and community associations, thereby dissuading divorce at the slightest request.