28 May 2013

Burma: Rohingya Muslims restricted to two children

Aung San Suu Kyi has remained silent on the plight of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims. With her criticism of “discrimination”, is she now changing her tune?

The recent decision by the government of Burma’s Rakhine state to “enforce” a long-existing rule restricting Rohingya Muslims to two children has generated dismay and disapproval worldwide.

But it’s not the only discriminatory rule to constrain the lives of Rohingya. Couples must seek permission from the border police before they get married.  They face severe restrictions on their ability to travel and every trip requires advance permission from the police – even if they need emergency medical treatment.

The most draconian restriction is the denial of citizenship. That right was taken away under Burma’s discriminatory 1982 citizenship law and strips away any collective power to improve their lives.

Still, it was Saturday’s announcement about restrictions of children by a state media spokesman called Win Myaing that seems to have caught the world’s attention.

The move even earned the condemnation of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  “It’s not good to have such discrimination. It is not in line with human rights,” she said. It was a rather mild sounding intervention but it comes as a surprise.

Despite months of inter-ethnic violence and claims by civil rights groups like Human Rights Watch that government officials, troops and Buddhist monks are guilty of crimes against humanity against minority Muslims, Ms Suu Kyi has said virtually nothing. Her oft-repeated concern – that she didn’t want to be seen “taking sides”. Perhaps the Nobel laureate has decided to take one.

There is something about this restriction on the number of children that it absolutely crystal clear. It can’t be submerged or set aside in a wider argument about long-standing ethnic hatreds. It simply is what it is – a highly discriminatory practice enforced by a unit of the Burmese state – and for most people, it leaves a distinctly unpleasant impression.

One final thing – the two-child policy is already in place in Rakhine state. It’s a key condition when Rohingya couples seek permission to marry. Flouting the two-child restriction is punishable with fines and imprisonment. To avoid such consequences, women who become pregnant before getting official approval have resorted to unsafe and illegal abortions.

One of life’s “realities” for Rohingya in Rakhine state.

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