Saturday, March 25, 2006

More Mandatory Premarital Testing: Burundi

Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, the dominant religion in Burundi, have instructed priests only to conduct weddings for couples who possess a recent HIV test. Church leaders emphasize that those who are unwilling to be tested may still be married through a civil ceremony, and that they are not asking to know the results: they only demand that the couples are tested and that they 'tell the truth' (presumably to each other). The booklet issued to Burundian priests also forbids marriage for pregnant women.

What is peculiar about the Church’s position is that, relatively speaking for sub-Saharan Africa, Burundi does not have a high HIV prevalence rate (6%). Are Church authorities in Burundi making (possibly stigmatizing) marriage rules that in order to promote public health, or are they simply using HIV/AIDS as a tool to stamp their moral authority on Burundi society?

Erratum: in an earlier version of this post, I mistakenly used information from a press release that stated that the Church in Burundi instructed priests to find out the test results of couples and not to marry those who are HIV positive. I apologize for having passed on this erroneous information, which has been making its rounds on the Web.