Myanmar: Rohingya Two-Child Policy Talk Draws Outcry


Lindsay Murdoch – The Sydney Morning Herald

A move to revive a two-child limit on Muslim Rohingya in western Myanmar has provoked widespread outrage including from the country’s opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

“If true, this is against the law,” declared Ms Suu Kyi who has faced criticism for failing to defend the Rohingya following deadly sectarian violence last year.

“It is discriminatory and also violates human rights,” she said.

Authorities in Rakhine state announced the ban in two townships bordering Bangladesh that have high Muslim populations only days after US president Barack Obama heaped praise on Myanmar’s president Thein Sein during an historic visit to the White House.

The ban does not apply to majority Buddhists, officials said, prompting accusations of ethnic cleansing.

Rights groups slammed the policy as outrageous and inhumane.

“When one ethnic group starts talking about birth control for another group, it’s quite chilling,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

Nyunt Maung Shein, head of Myanmar’s Islamic Religious Affairs Council, warned the policy could backfire and inflame already tense relations in Rakhine state.

“The authorities should be very cautious. If this is a step to ease tension between the communities it will not produce the desired effect,” he said.

The United Nations has described as estimated 800,000 Rohingya living in western Mynamar as among the world’s most persecuted people.

For decades the country’s military regime refused to grant them citizenship, rendering them stateless, despite that many have lived in Rakhine for centuries.

Branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the Rohingya needed permission to travel outside their villages and couples required permission to marry.

A two-child policy was first introduced for Rohingya 19 years ago but according to the Arakan Report, an organisation that lobbies for the rights of Rohingya, it was never enforced.

Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing last weekend announced a revival of the policy to stem population growth in the Muslim community following a government-appointed commission in April that claimed it was one of the causes of sectarian violence.

An immigration official in the state told reporters Muslim men would also be banned from having more than one wife and Muslim women would be educated on restricting family size.

No other country is believed to have imposed restrictions on family size on a particular religious group.

China has a one-child policy but it is not based on religion.

Mr Thein Sein’s government has not commented publicly on the order.

More than 130,000 Rohingya displaced from their homes by sectarian violence are languishing in squalid refugee camps where welfare agencies have warned of a humanitarian disaster from water borne diseases as the rainy season hits the area.

Since the violence that left at least 92 people dead and made 140,000 homeless in June and October last year religious unrest has spread in other areas of Myanmar, posing a serious threat to the country’s stability as Mr Thein Sein’s government attempts to implement a wave of democratic reforms.

Muslims account for only about four percent of Myanmar’s estimated population of 60 million people.


Lindsay Murdoch is South-East Asia correspondent for Fairfax Media.

-With agencies

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