The Burundi Government has given all unmarried couples an ultimatum to legalize their relationships as part of an effort to reform morals in the country.
A statement from the government released on Wednesday told the unmarried couples that they have until the end of the year to formalize their affair, failure to which they will face the hand of the law.
The order comes after President Pierre Nkurunziza launched a campaign this month “to moralize society” in the tiny nation that has been marred with violent political upheavals in the last two years.
According to Interior ministry spokesman Terence Ntahiraja, the country is facing a population explosion which he blamed on “illegal marriages”, polygamy, bigamy and “hundreds of schoolgirls getting pregnant”.
The government has been pressuring unmarried couples across the country to tie the knot, to restore ‘morals’. “Persons living in common-law unions should be put on a special list by 22 June,” The governor of the southeastern province of Rutana ordered.
Northwestern governor of Bubanza province on the other hand demanded unspecified “sanctions” against aisle-dodgers.
Pierre, a 27-year-old farmer living with his partner in Ngozi in the northern Burundi, told the media that local officials had threatened to charge him a 50,000 Burundian franc ($29) fine, and any child born out of wedlock would not be eligible for free education and medical costs.
“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.” He said.
It is said that Burundi government officials have started organizing mass weddings, a move civil society opposes 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.” But Government Spokesman Ntahiraja dismissed such arguments saying 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,” he said.
“All this is done within the framework of the patriotic training programme,” he added, referring to an initiative launched by Nkurunziza in August 2013 to reinforce “positive traditional values.”