Burundi president orders unwed couples to marry by year end or face the wrath of his ‘religious crusade’
He said church and state-sanctioned weddings are the solution and a patriotic duty – Interior ministry
Authorities say nation is facing a population explosion
Caused by “illegal marriages”, polygamy, bigamy and “hundreds of schoolgirls getting pregnant”
Civil rights activists kick against forced marriages – they say it’s a “religious crusade” led by president Pierre Nkurunziza and his wife, both fervent, born-again evangelical Christians
‘Born Again’ Burundi president, Pierre Nkurunziza being sworn-in for his third term in dec, 2015 after controversy ridden election
Common-law unions have come under pressure in the Central African country of Burundi. The government has ordered unmarried couples to legalize their relationships, by the year end. The Burundi government announced the marriage mandate on Friday, as part of an effort to reform morals in the country.
The order follows the launch of a campaign this month by President Pierre Nkurunziza “to moralize society” in the tiny nation which, for two years, has been in the grip of sometimes violent political upheaval.
Interior ministry spokesperson Terence Ntahiraja told AFP Burundi is facing a population explosion largely fueled by: “illegal marriages”, polygamy, bigamy and “hundreds of schoolgirls getting pregnant”.
Church and state-sanctioned weddings are the solution and a patriotic duty, Ntahiraja said.
The government has since been pressuring unwed couples across the country to legalize their relationships. In his latest statement, President Nkurunziza urged Burundians to show their love for each other ,and their country, by getting married.
The marriage debate and posture of government state leaning towards the enforced unions has been disparaged by civil rights activists who called it “a violation of human rights because the state has no right to attack two adults who have decided to live together without being married”.
The activists said the forced marriages were part of a “religious crusade” led by Nkurunziza and his wife, both fervent, born-again evangelical Christians.
Regional governments waded into the issue as the governor of the south-eastern province of Rutana ordered: “persons living in common-law unions” be put on a special list by June 22. In a similar vein, the government of the northwestern Bubanza province has indicated that yet unspecified “sanctions” will be imposed on ‘wedding dodgers’.
Many affected Burundians have said they cannot afford to marry. Burundi is one of the world’s poorest countries.
Pierre, a farmer living with his partner in the northern city of Ngozi, said local officials have already threatened him with a 50,000 Burundian franc ($25, €22) fine and said any child born out of wedlock will not be eligible for free education and medical costs.
The 27-year-old father-of-two said he has not wed his partner of several years because he cannot afford the bride price demanded by his girlfriend’s family. “She told me she was pregnant. As I am poor, we decided to come together to raise our child,” he said. That was five years ago.
The couple who said “We thought we would legalize our union as soon as we could afford it,” remain unwed with their third child on the way.
To enact the president’s orders, officials have begun organizing mass weddings, much to the chagrin of civil rights activists.
The country which is in the central region of Africa is on the road to abolishing common law unions
Interior ministry spokesperson Ntahiraja has the dismissed concerns raised by critics, insisting the government’s campaign was within the law: “We want Burundians to understand that everyone is responsible for his life, we want order in this country. All this is done within the framework of the patriotic training program,” he added, referring to an initiative launched by Nkurunziza in August 2013 to reinforce “positive traditional values”.
Since 2015, when Nkurunziza won a third term in office in a controversy ridden election, at least 500 people have been killed in political violence in the central African country, population 12 million.
Meanwhile about 400,000 have fled Burundi for refugee camps in neighboring countries. However, the country had been relatively calm in recent months.