Burma to return two-child limit to Muslim families

Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Picture: Getty/ NLD
Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Picture: Getty/ NLD
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BURMESE opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Islamic leaders have expressed dismay over plans by authorities to revive a two-child limit on Muslim Rohingya families, a policy that does not apply to Buddhists and comes amid accusations of ethnic cleansing.

Authorities in strife-torn Rakhine state said this weekend that they were restoring a measure imposed during past military rule that banned Rohingya families from having more than two children.

Details of the policy and how it will be enforced have not been released, sparking calls for clarity and concerns of more discrimination against a group the UN calls one of the world’s most persecuted people.

“If true, this is against the law,” said Ms Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Ms Suu Kyi has faced criticism for failing to defend the Rohingya following two waves of deadly sectarian violence last year. She told reporters yesterday she had not heard details of the latest measure but, if it exists, “It is discriminatory and also violates human rights.”

The policy applies to two Rakhine townships that border Bangladesh and have the highest Muslim populations in the state. The townships, Buthidaung and Maungdaw, are about 95 per cent Muslim. Nationwide, Muslims account for only about 4 per cent of Burma’s roughly 60 million people.

The order is thought to make Burma the only country in the world to level such a restriction against a particular religious group, and is likely to bring further criticism that Muslims are being discriminated against in the Buddhist-majority country. The central government has not made any statement about the policy since Rakhine state authorities quietly enacted the measure a week ago.

Antipathy toward the Rohingya erupted last year into mob violence in which Rakhine Buddhists armed with machetes destroyed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds of people dead and forcing 125,000 to flee, mostly Muslims.

Human Rights Watch has accused the government and security forces in Rakhine of an organised campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya, who are regarded as aliens.

Since the violence, the religious unrest has expanded into a campaign against Muslim communities in other areas, posing a challenge to president Thein Sein’s reformist government as it attempts to implement democratic reforms after nearly half a century of harsh military rule.

Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said the policy was meant to stem population growth in the Muslim community, which a government-

appointed commission identified as one of the causes of the sectarian violence.

Persecuted minority are not seen as citizens

Burma’s government does not include the Rohingya as one of its 135 recognised ethnic minorities. It considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh says the Rohingya have been living in Burma for centuries and should be treated as citizens.

For years, the Rohingya faced a variety of heavy-handed restrictions. They needed permission to travel outside their villages, couples were required to have permission to marry, and were then limited to having two children. Any offspring that exceeded the limit were “blacklisted” and refused birth registrations, and denied the right to attend school, travel and marry.