Muslims in a province of Burma have been ordered not to have more than two children in an attempt by the government to stop Buddhist attacks on Muslims.
State officials said the two-child limit in the state of Rakhine would ease tensions between Buddhists and their Muslim Rohingya neighbours.
Local officials said the new measure was part of a policy that will also ban polygamyin two Rakhine townships that border Bangladesh and have the highest Muslim populations. The townships, Buthidaung and Maundaw, are about 95% Muslim.
The measure was enacted a week ago after a government-appointed commission investigating the violence issued proposals to ease tensions, which included family planning programs to stem population growth among minority Muslims, said Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing. The commission also recommended doubling the number of security forces in the volatile region.
“The population growth of Rohingya Muslims is 10 times higher than that of the Rakhine (Buddhists),” Win Myaing said. “Overpopulation is one of the causes of tension.”
Sectarian violence in Burma first flared nearly a year ago in Rakhine state between the region’s Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya. Mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes razed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds of people dead and forcing 125,000 to flee, mostly Muslims.
Since the violence, religious unrest has developed into a campaign against the country’s Muslim communities in other regions.
Containing the strife has posed a serious challenge to President Thein Sein’s reformist government as it attempts to institute political and economic liberalisation after nearly half a century of harsh military rule. It has also tarnished the image of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been criticised for failing to speak out strongly in defence of the country’s embattled Muslim community.
Win Myaing said authorities had not yet determined how the measures will be enforced, but the two-child policy will be mandatory in Buthidaung and Maundaw. The policy will not apply yet to other parts of Rakhine state, which have smaller Muslim populations.
“One factor that has fuelled tensions between the Rakhine public and [Rohingya] populations relates to the sense of insecurity among many Rakhines stemming from the rapid population growth of the [Rohingya], which they view as a serious threat,” the government-appointed commission said in a report issued last month.
Predominantly Buddhist Burma does not include the Rohingya as one of its 135 recognised ethnicities. It considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh says the Rohingya have been living in Myanmar for centuries and should be recognised as citizens. Muslims account for about 4% of Myanmar’s roughly 60 million people.