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Burma's '2 Child Policy' for Muslims Criticized as Discriminatory

  • Daniel Schearf

An internally displaced Rohingya woman holds her newborn baby surrounded by children in the foreground of makeshift tents at a camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Burma, May13, 2013.

An internally displaced Rohingya woman holds her newborn baby surrounded by children in the foreground of makeshift tents at a camp for Rohingya people in Sittwe, northwestern Rakhine State, Burma, May13, 2013.

Rights activists are calling for Burma to end a two-child policy imposed on the Muslim minority Rohingya people to control their population growth in western Rakhine state. Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has for the first time sided with the Rohingya, calling the revived policy discriminatory and against human rights.

Rights groups said a limit of two children for Muslims is one of a number of continued violations against the rights of the Rohingya.

The birth restriction, and a limit of one wife, is being implemented in two districts of Burma's western Rakhine state on the border with Bangladesh.

Buddhists were not to be affected by this policy, but it is not clear if it would be enforced on Muslims in other areas of Rakhine state.

The birth limits for Muslims are not new, but Human Rights Watch said they have only been enforced since 2005.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said Burma should revoke the policy and end other restrictions against the Rohingya.

"When people apply for permission to marry, and that's required for Rohingya, they must undertake a written obligation to only have two children. Any more children than that are not registered and therefore not able to go to school, receive any sort of education, other services from the government, not able to apply for permission to move with their parents. They become unregistered children of stateless people, possibly the worst situation you could possibly imagine," he said.

Authorities in Rakhine state said they are merely implementing recommendations of the Rakhine Commission.

The presidential commission investigated last year's communal unrest between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims.

It recommended, among other things, family planning to reduce high birth rates of Muslims that some Rakhine Buddhists fear will soon make them the minority.

The mob violence in Rakhine state last year left 200 people dead and 140,000 displaced, most of them Rohingya Muslims. Human Rights Watch has labeled the violence ethnic cleansing and cited evidence of involvement by security forces and mass graves.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday gave a rare defense of the Rohingya, telling journalists a two-child limit is a violation of human rights.

But her National League for Democracy still refuses to recognize the Rohingya as an ethnicity or as citizens.

Her party spokesman Nyan Win said they would be willing to accept citizenship for the Rohingya, but only if the law is changed and they are called Bengalis, a term that implies illegal migration from Bangladesh.

"NLD never call them Rohingya because of there is no history [of them] in Burma. That is why," he said.

The Rohingya are considered one of the world's most persecuted minorities and are not recognized as citizens in Burma, despite many living there for generations.

Aung Naing Oo is a Rakhine Commission member. In an interview in April, he told VOA Burma would have to eventually accept the Rohingya.

"Judging from the statements of the president and other important figures within the government, and it is clear, there is no way. Where we going to send them to? They have nowhere else to go. Bangladesh is not going to accept them. So basically, there is only one way. They need to be a part of this country," he said.

A year after the violence many Rohingya are still living in relief camps or confined to their villages.

Doctors Without Borders deputy head of mission for Burma Vickie Hawkins said many Rohingya are afraid to move around, but authorities are not providing enough security and are limiting Muslims to only one hospital. As a result their health is suffering.

"We know of many cases where the mothers have died due to a lack of referral possibility," she said. "We have also encountered people who have suffered from trauma, some kind of accident, who have needed hospital services and been unable to reach it."

Hawkins says patients have had treatment for tuberculosis cut short, threatening not only their health but also raising concerns of development of resistant strains of the infectious disease.

She said Doctors Without Borders wants to offer higher levels of health care inside the relief camps, but authorities in Burma have refused.

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