Myanmar’s Rakhine State Imposes Two-Child Limit on Rohingyas

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Rohingyas at the Dabang Internally Displaced Persons camp, located on the outskirts of Sittwe in Rakhine state, Oct. 10, 2012.

Authorities in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state have introduced a local regulation setting a two-child limit on Rohingya families in a bid to restrict population growth among the Muslim minority group, according to a government spokesman.

Officials announced the measure—part of a directive that also enforces a ban on polygamy—this month but have not said how it will be enforced.  

The new rules have been imposed in northern Rakhine state’s Maungdaw district, which comprises Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, along the border with Bangladesh.

The two-child limit only applies to Rohingyas, a stateless group widely considered in Myanmar to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even though they have lived in the country for generations.

Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said the measures were being implemented to curb Rohingyas’ high population growth and were in line with recommendations made by a central government panel probing communal violence that tore through the region last year.

“The birth rates for Muslim families in this area are too high,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“The Rakhine inquiry commission advised controlling the birth rate in its report, and we will follow their advice,” he said.

The inquiry commission’s report, issued in April, recommended family planning education be provided to Rohingya families, saying their “rapid population growth” had “fuelled insecurity among some Rakhines” and been a factor leading to the violence between the two groups.

Buddhist Rakhines and Muslim Rohingya held bloody clashes in the region in June and October last year, which left nearly 200 dead and 140,000 displaced.

Rights groups have said Rohingyas bore the brunt of the violence, with Human Rights Watch accusing security forces of complicity in “ethnic cleansing" against the group.

“According to many Rakhines, the implementation of family planning programs amongst [Rohingya] communities would go some way to mitigating such concerns and would support the goal of peaceful coexistence,” the inquiry comisson's report said.

“If, as proposed, family-planning education is provided to the [Rohingya] population, the government should refrain from implementing nonvoluntary measures which may be seen as discriminatory or that would be inconsistent with human rights standards.”

Surprise checks

Though Myanmar’s nearly 800,000 Rohingyas are a minority in Rakhine state and the rest of the country, the group makes up a majority of the population in Maungdaw and Buthidaung, which are also home to a small Rakhine Buddhist minority.

Authorities are making surprise inspections of Rohingya homes in the townships to check for compliance with the birth control regulation, Myanmar Eleven media quoted a district immigration official as saying last week.

Win Myaing said families who break the new rules will be dealt with “according to the Immigration Law,” but did not give further details. It remained unclear what measures would be taken against families that have more than two children or are involved in polygamous marriages.

The measure could later be extended to other townships if necessary, he said.

Myanmar has no national laws limiting reproduction, but its ethnic state governments have the authority to introduce regulations in accordance with regional security demands.

Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.