Myanmar’s Parliament Approves Controversial Interfaith Marriage Law

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Buddhist devotees pour water on a sacred tree as they take part in a ceremony at the Shwedagon pagoda to mark Buddha's birthday in Yangon, May 13, 2014.
Buddhist devotees pour water on a sacred tree as they take part in a ceremony at the Shwedagon pagoda to mark Buddha's birthday in Yangon, May 13, 2014.

Lawmakers in Myanmar passed contentious legislation on Tuesday that imposes restrictions on interfaith marriages in the predominantly Buddhist country, despite opposition from rights advocates who say it discriminates against women and Muslims in the conservative, predominantly Buddhist country.

The law requires Buddhist women and men of other faiths to register their intent to marry with local authorities, who will display a public notice of the engagements. Couples can marry only if there are no objections; but if they violate the law, they could face imprisonment.

Critics have argued that the legislation does not apply the law equally to all people and flies in the face of domestic and international human rights standards.

“This kind of law shouldn’t be issued by parliament because it is not an essential law for all ethnic [groups] in Myanmar; it is just a law that discriminates against ethnic people when it comes to religion,” said Zar Talam, an ethnic Chin lawmaker from the Htantlang constituency of Chin state in western Myanmar.

Proponents, however, say the law will protect Buddhist women who marry outside their faith.

“This law was written for Myanmar Buddhist women who marry men from other religions so they have equal rights in marriage, divorce, inheritance and taking care of children, as well as have effective protection,” said Saw Hla Tun, a member of parliament's Draft Law Committee.

The law is part of a series of four laws on marriage, religion, polygamy, and family planning proposed by a Buddhist organization called the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, which is affiliated with a nationalist Buddhist monk group.

Women’s groups and civil society organizations who have opposed the measure issued a statement earlier this year, arguing that the draft law denied women the inherent rights of freedom of survival and freedom of choice.

“We believe that current faith-based political activities, including the arguments against interfaith marriage currently taking place in the country, are not in accordance with the objectives of the peaceful coexistence of all faiths and the prevention of extreme violence and conflict, but are instead events and ideas designed to distract the public before the 2015 election,” the statement said, referring to the general elections scheduled for November.

Although the law does not mention any specific religion, it has prompted speculation that it could be aimed at preventing Muslims from trying to coerce Buddhist women into abandoning their faith for marriage or otherwise.

Last year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and New York-based Human Rights Watch condemned the four pieces of draft legislation, saying they discriminated against non-Buddhists in religious conversions, marriages, and births, and would encourage further repression and violence against Muslims and other religious minorities.

Reported by Win Naung Toe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Comments (6)

Mg Lin Ko

from YGN


Oct 06, 2015 01:25 PM


America is an evil country.America is not a democracy, the government is controlled by zionists not the american people. During british colonial period jews looted colonies and became rich and now they use their wealth to destroy other countries. America is a thief guarding the loot

New colonialisation of myanmar through NLD .just like before 1948

America attacks oil rich countries or imposes sanctions to create oil shortage and it increases the price of oil and american oil companies benefit.

Western powers are creating gender divide,they don't like eastern societies living with family values ,they are teaching women are special,so as to create divide between man and women. Western societies have no family values ,there is a collapse of the family system in the west.

political division is created to brings chaos,thats why in thailand army had to take over. In democracy media and journalists would write false stories after taking money from foreigners...thats why singapore strictly controls media.

NLD is a tool of the western countries to colonialise myanmar again.

muslims can't build a peaceful society.There is no history of muslims living peacefully with others in muslim majority regions,even in indonesia and malysia they have attcked others

If the intention of America is peace then why don't America set up interfaith groups in islamic countries.

Aug 18, 2015 05:34 AM


from Rangoon

This law is misguided and dangerous. It also affects Christian-Buddhist marriages. This basically puts Buddhism in the same category as Muslims, intolrant bullies.

Jul 30, 2015 11:32 PM

Sarash Bhatoolaul

The four related forms of legislation have long been due and accordingly, I pay my respect to the promoters of these laws. I would be interested to read the background of these laws, that is, the reasons for registering marriages by Buddhist women outside their religion and the purpose of outlawing polygamy ( what's wrong having fourteen or more children in a Third World country like Myanmar!All non-Muslim majority countries should take heed of the courage and brave leadership of the Myanmar government.

Jul 10, 2015 09:48 PM


This law wouldn't be necessary if Muslims worldwide do not insist that others convert into their faith upon marriage. While they demand that others become muslims, they would not allow muslims to convert to other religions. In the light of this arrogance, is it any wonder that they are persecuted in Myanmar.

Jul 09, 2015 04:04 PM

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