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Burmese Buddhists Are Now Oppressing Rohingyan Ovaries

Burma wants to implement a child policy that will limit the number of children the Rohingya Muslims can have which is backed by many members of the Buddhist community.

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We’ve written before about the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, a small ethnic community in Rakhine state. Considered one of the world’s most oppressed minorities, they make up only 800,000 of the country’s 56 million large population yet regularly have their claims to citizenship threatened by the republic's Buddhist majority.

There’s the targeted attacks on their communities, reports of Rohingya women being kept as military sex slaves, and recently, an attempt at implementing a child policy that will limit the number of children the Rohingya can have which is backed by many members of the Buddhist community.


Myanmar might be the happy authoritarian lumbering towards a West friendly government, but devastating inequality still reigns in a region spotted with ethnic and tribal strife. Already denied citizenship and residency rights, the 2 child policy is another attempt by Government forces to erase the Rohingya people from Myanmar history.

Anthony Ware, one of the founders of the Australian Myanmar Institute and lecturer of International and Community development at Deakin University, talked to me about the Rohingya people and what sort of ramifications the 2 child policy would have on the region.

VICE: The immigration minister, Khin Yi, said in defence of the program, “The Bengali women living in the Rakhine State have a lot of children. In some areas, one family has 10 or 12 children. It's not good for child nutrition. It's not very easy for schooling. It is not very easy to take care of the children." Isn’t he sort of right?
Anthony Ware: A large family makes it really difficult to alleviate poverty. But having said that I don’t think it’s the role of the state to mandate the number of children on anyone and certainly not to target one ethnic or religious minority group who may, because of their own religious reasons or ethnic practices, have a higher birthrate than others.

Khin Maung Swe, the Party Chairman of the National Democratic Force, says, “We shouldn’t only see the birth control plan from a human rights point of view. We should also think about providing a sufficient amount of food for the entire population… This policy is part of a plan to provide more development for everyone. We also should look at this from a political point of view—how will other nationalities be affected if the Rakhine state government allows [Rohingyas] to have as many children as they want?”
I wonder why that’s not being applied across the entire country… It’s not being applied, for example, for Chin families. Chin state is the poorest. Rakhine state is the second poorest, but Chin state is poorer again and they have tended to have larger families. Chin are Christian rather than Muslim and have a better relationship with the ethnic majority. Why would you apply a 2 child policy in their own best interest in the second poorest part of the country, amongst a troubled ethnic minority? As opposed to doing it amongst all the poor ethnicities?


The Government has said that the recent violence is because the Buddhist population is worried about the Muslims growth rate. Do you think curbing the growth would have an effect on those tensions?
Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that is what’s at the heart of this.

If curbing the population would lead to a decrease in violence, why is it not a good idea?
Well, it will on one side. But will it inflame the tensions on the other side and push the Muslim population towards radicalization, feeling victimized and singled out for fairly authoritarian and fairly harsh levels of control on them? Are they next going to feel a need to, one way or another, push even harder for their claims to be taken seriously?

Do you think that Muslims would attack Buddhists instead?
I fear that could be an outcome… much of the instigators at the moment are Buddhists who are very concerned that if all of the currently unregistered Muslims gain registration as at least residents, if not citizens, then they can vote and that would change the outcome in Parliament. In fact, the trigger for the violence in the last couple of years really was the current ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party. Prior to the 2010 elections they were actually beginning to provide, following international human rights recognitions, giving the Muslims an opportunity to register as citizens or residents. So trying to update their paperwork and that’s what’s triggered the backlash.


It’s quite normal for people considered illegal immigrants in developed nations to be denied rights. Couldn’t we say the same here?
The question of the Rohingya or the Bengali Muslims in the region is more complicated because under the laws put in place in the 1950’s, if you are a migrant, illegal or otherwise into the country your children have the right to apply for residency. If you were born in the country even to illegals you have the right to apply for residency. If your parents had residency you have the right to apply for citizenship. The third generation, even if they were illegal, they have the right to citizenship. The way the right has been suppressed has largely been the ethnic majority in the region, the ethnic Rakhine Buddhists, refusing to issue birth certificates. Very few of the Muslims actually have hospital births in the first place. So the registration process then on births was not done in hospital but in a registration office and they’re refusing to process paperwork that would prove local births because that then limits the registration for residency and for ultimately for citizenship. This is something that has been fairly systematic. It’s been fairly consistent denial of their rights under existing law.

How do you think this policy is going to play out?
Rakhine state has suffered over the last 60 years, with 3 significant enough ethnic armed groups. There’s quite a lot of tension between ethnic Rakhine and the central government. All three of those groups, while they’re all much smaller than they used to be, they still retain some arms. They are part of the negotiations that are meant to be happening through the Myanmar Peace Center. I would fear that this would be a major setback for those kinds of negotiations at least among the Rohingya. I think other ethnic minorities might feel their citizenship is more questioned and could react negatively. This is where I think negotiated and peaceful statesmanship from the central government is absolutely necessary. I fear that if we don’t see that then there’s a potential for – it’s just one more thing that undermines a peaceful transition for the country to be honest.

Follow Adnan on Twitter: @whotookadnan

More on Burma's Rohingya Crisis:

Is Burma’s Anti-Muslim Violence Led by “Buddhist Neo-Nazis”?

Burma's Rohingya Ghettos Broke My Heart