Monday, December 9, 2013

The Runaway Husband

One of the general tropes of immigration is the immigrant who moves abroad in order to find work that will pay enough to make a better life for the rest of his family. The immigrant migrates alone, makes some money, they wire some of it home as remittances, and perhaps if they make enough money, they can bring the remainder of the family over the border and they can be a single unit again. That's the goal, anyway.

Often, though, that plan fails. The immigrant can't find work that pays enough, or even find work at all. Now what? It's not quite as simple as 'just head home'. For one, sometimes they just don't have the money left to get themselves home. That's what they showed up to find in the first place, and failing to find it, they find themselves stranded. For two, perhaps they just straight-up die overseas. For three, going back home is an admission of failure and a severe loss of face, and there are a lot of people and a lot of cultures where that kind of loss of face is simply not an option. You suck it up and make the most of the situation you do have, no matter how miserable, because even death is preferable to returning home a failure. And while you're at it, when contacting home, you do everything you can not to draw attention to it. You lie; you say that you're doing fine, or at least, that you're doing better than you actually are. If that can't be done... you just kind of stop contacting home.

Which brings us to Tajikistan, where a global-high 47% of the nation's gross domestic product for 2012 was generated through remittances, through migrants abroad, mostly in Russia, sending money back home. Tajikistan is far ahead of everybody else in this regard, with second-place Liberia getting 31% of their 2012 GDP via remittances and third-place Kyrgyzstan sitting at 29%. And Tajikistan's percentage is still climbing, being slated to hit 48.1% by year's end. It's a rather humiliating statistic for the Tajik government, especially because since so many of the migrants are in Russia, sending home Russian money, it leaves Tajikistan particularly vulnerable to Russian influence with regards to policy. If Russia doesn't like what Tajikistan is doing, it's a simple matter to start deporting Tajik workers and sending them back home, with Tajikistan taking a hit in its GDP every time they do.

It can't be good to also be seeing these two stories centering around Tajik wives who have basically figured out the game, contacting Tajik authorities at the rate of about 15 a month and asking them if they can please have their husbands deported. They don't remit, they don't write, they don't call, they haven't for as much as eight years in one case, we think they're cheating on us, so could you make them come home and support their family? The problem is, the game's been figured out too late to do any good. This is something of a desperation gambit, with other avenues for gaining anything out of this arrangement proving ineffective, and  given that it's Tajik authorities being contacted and not Russian authorities (who can be notoriously tough to contact when they don't want to be contacted), they have no jurisdiction to actually do anything.

In addition, the wives themselves don't have much in the way of recourse either. Tajikistan is a heavily Muslim nation, chiefly Sunni, and some Sunni interpretations of Muslim doctrine hold that a husband is permitted to divorce his wife simply by saying the word 'talaq' ('I divorce you') three times. (Shia doctrine disagrees, stating that it's a pre-Islamic custom that Mohammed banned in his time. They instead mandate a period in which the couple attempts to reconcile.) This is supposed to be done with witnesses present, and with a waiting period between each utterance of 'talaq'; however, some Tajik wives have found themselves getting triple-talaq'ed over the phone, or via text message.

Women, it will not surprise you to learn, have a number of hoops to jump through if they want to be the divorcer as opposed to the divorcee, such as surrendering child custody, repayment of marriage expenses and dowry, and in Tajikistan's case, acknowledgement of the increasingly stark gender imbalance. As more men take off for Russia, the women are left with fewer and fewer prospects for remarriage, and are faced with the choice of trying to go it alone; sending their children to institutions or even going themselves; or joining polygamous marriages. Tajik law, though, doesn't recognize polygamous marriages, so the excess wives can get victimized all over again if their new husband tires of them.

Presumably, taking off for Russia before their husband does isn't an option either.

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