Church forces Aids tests

Couples who want to get married in one of the country's fastest growing Pentecostal churches will first have to go for Aids testing, church officials said on Thursday.

The Living Waters Church issued a statement saying it intends to implement a policy making the testing mandatory. However, the church did not say whether it would marry HIV-positive couples after testing.

The decision has drawn criticism from the legal fraternity saying it contravenes the country's constitution.

"This is discrimination of the highest order. No one should be discriminated against on the basis of health and legally, getting married is a human right," said Charles Mhango, a member of the Malawi Law Society.

The church defended its decision, saying they already advise couples to take HIV tests before getting married to protect their futures.

The church has already declared pregnancy tests compulsory before marrying a couple. The church will not marry a couple if the woman is found to be pregnant because it considers it a sin, said Hellen Dzoole, HIV/Aids committee vice chairperson.

Dzoole said the couple would only be allowed to marry once they atoned for their sin.

Last year Malawi's second largest church, the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, decreed that girls seeking bursaries at the church's private secondary school should first undergo HIV screening, drawing criticism from human rights groups.

Sub-Saharan Africa has 70% of the world's Aids infections, with 15% of Malawi's population infected with HIV/Aids.