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Arakan Lawmaker’s Bid to Restrict Muslim Birth Rate Rejected

A group of Muslim women and girls are pictured in a village in Maungdaw Township in 2014. (Photo: Lawi Weng / The Irrawaddy)

By Lawi Weng & Tun Tun
September 27, 2016

RANGOON — A Lower House lawmaker has asked that the government restrict birth rates within the Muslim community in two Arakan State townships: Maungdaw and Buthidaung—a move that was rejected by the Union health minister and described as “disturbing” by an international rights group.

Aung Taung Shwe of the Arakan National Party (ANP), representing Buthidaung Township, brought up the topic in Parliament on Sept. 22. Citing statistics on population—which The Irrawaddy could not verify—he suggested that Muslim Rohingya were having proportionally more children than the Buddhist Arakanese in these two townships.

“We need to restrict the birthrate in these areas. These are appropriate areas in which to enforce the law,” he said, referring to the highly controversial “Protection of Race and Religion” laws, put forward by ultranationalist Buddhist organization Ma Ba Tha and passed in 2015 under ex-President Thein Sein’s government.

One statute, the Population Control Law, says that state or regional governments can ask that the government “organize” women to space births 36 months apart, a law that critics say could be used against Burma’s Muslim population, who, according to the 2014 census, make up just 4.3 percent of the country.

“The authorities did not carry out their duties based on the law, and the population of the people has increased greatly,” Aung Taung Shwe alleged.

Union Minister for Health and Sport Dr. Myint Htwe called the ANP lawmaker’s suggestion a violation of “medical ethics” to sterilize women against their will. His ministry, he added, could not take action to restrict birth rates without an order from the President and the Union government.

David Scott Mathieson, a senior researcher on Burma in the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, told The Irrawaddy that Aung Taung Shwe’s idea was “disturbing” and that there was “no evidence” of a rise in birth rates of the Rohingya Muslims. A call to reduce their population, he pointed out, was “tantamount to racial culling.”

Arakan State’s Rohingya community, who are locally labeled as “Bengali,” a term which implies that they are interlopers from Bangladesh, are widely stateless and face restrictions on their freedom of movement, access to medical care and education.

Mathieson added that the Population Control Law should be immediately repealed by the National League for Democracy-led (NLD) government. Furthermore, the NLD should respond by “stand[ing] firm” against racism and “commit to providing healthcare for all people living in these townships, based on real needs, not religion or citizenship.”

This, Mathieson said, would be “the best way to silence the voices of xenophobia.”

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