The Family Harmony Project was launched in Shanghai on Wednesday, aiming to cultivate more professional councilors and psychologists to work as "marriage doctors and nurses" to enhance the work of improving marriages and maintaining social stability.
It is a nonprofit project carried out under the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
With an initial investment of 1 million yuan ($160,710), the first group of 300 "marriage doctors and nurses" will work in enterprises, communities and with families in crisis to provide marriage counseling services.
Two websites, jiahegongcheng.org and weqing120.com, and a 24-hour hotline 4008-120-089, are available to help people in need to solve marriage related problems. For those marriages that cannot be mended, they will also provide services aimed at protecting the legal rights of divorcing couples.
China's divorce rate has increased sharply in recent years, ringing alarm bells across the nation which attaches great importance to family harmony. An old Chinese proverb says a harmonious family can lead to success in everything.
Experts warn more measures should be carried out to save increasingly fragile families or the consequences will be disastrous.
Data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs shows 13 million couples were registered in 2011, an increase of 4.9 per cent from the previous year. In the same period, 2.87 million couples divorced, 7.3 per cent more than in 2010, equal to more than 5000 couples divorcing every day.
"China's divorce rate saw a steep increase in recent years. Society will disintegrate once the family dissolves and this is the fundamental reason behind many social problems. It not only affects the life and work of people who get divorced and their families, it also affects their children's up-bringing," said Chen Yiyun, a marriage researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Juvenile crime committed by children from single parent families is three times higher than from integrated families. Increasing cases of extramarital affairs and domestic violence also increasingly threatens social stability, which greatly raises the cost of law enforcement," Chen said at the launch ceremony on Wednesday.
"Marriage is just like a person who is sick. When problems arise in a marriage, couples need to see doctors to let their marriage regain health.
"Marriage doctors and nurses are a group of people composed of psychologists and marriage counselors, who are keen on helping marriages that are on the brink of falling apart and volunteer to teach people how to keep their marriage together and keep it healthy and happy," said Shu Xin, of weiqing120.com, director of China Marriage and Family Counseling Center.
"No career success can replace the success of a good marriage because career success only accompanies you for a certain period but your marriage will be with you for your entire life. I have seen so many people that own big enterprises and property and drive luxury cars, but without a happy marriage, even their career is negatively affected," said Chen.
"Many cases have been reported where the couple divorced within a year, or even in extreme cases, they were registered and divorced on the same day. People are too hasty in marriage and lack responsibility to both family and society. It is therefore necessary to intervene to save marriages and this needs to promoted to the entire country," said Wu Changzhen, a professor specializing in civil law, marriage law and family at China University of Political Science and Law.
"The reasons for marriage breakdowns are growing increasingly complicated, and it is leading to a big demand for the expertise of marriage doctors and nurses. Though the majority of these people are already certified psychologists and marriage counselors, more training should still be done," Wei Mingzhen, founder of the first marriage hospital in Hubei province, vice director of China Marriage and Family Counseling Center.
In recent years, the number of couples that divorced because of property issues increased, especially as measures to control the cost of housing were launched by the government.
The number of fake marriage is also increasing prompted by incentives offered to married couples when buying property.
"But I think compared with China's vast number of divorces it's only a tiny amount. It cannot be the major reasons behind the increased divorce rate," said Yu Guoliang, council member of China Association of Social Workers and director of Zhejiang Family Education Experimental Base.
Extramarital affairs are responsible for most divorces, he added.
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