Unmarried couples have until the end of this year to legalize their relationships, the Burundi government said, as part of an effort to reform morals in the country.
The order follows the launch of a campaign in May by President Pierre Nkurunziza “to moralize society” in Burundi. Interior ministry spokesperson Terence Ntahiraja told AFP the country was facing a population explosion which he blamed on “illegal marriages”, polygamy, bigamy and “hundreds of schoolgirls getting pregnant”.
He said church and state-sanctioned weddings were the solution and were a patriotic duty. Nkurunziza said Burundians should show their love for each other – and their country – by getting married. The government has since been pressuring unwed couples across the country to tie the knot.
Pierre, a 27-year-old farmer living with his partner in Ngozi, in the north, said local officials had threatened him with a 50 000 Burundian franc ($25) fine and said any child born out of wedlock would not be eligible for free education and medical costs.
Pierre said he had not married because he could not 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. “We thought we would legalize our union as soon as we could afford it.”
That was five years ago and the couple is now onto their third child.
To enact the president’s orders, officials have begun organizing mass weddings, something one civil society activist opposed as “a violation of human rights because the state has no right to attack two adults who have decided to live together without being married.”