RANGOON—Authorities in the north of Arakan State added another measure to the restrictions imposed on Rohingya Muslims last week, by introducing a regional order that sets a two-child limit for local families. The directive, which is effective in Maungdaw District, also bans polygamy.
“Regarding family planning, they can only get two children,” Arakan State government spokesperson Win Myaing said on Monday, adding that only monogamous marriages would be recognized.
“The rule is only for certain groups… For Buddhist people, we don’t need that rule, because Buddhist people only have one wife,” Win Myaing said. “It’s being implemented to control the population growth, because it’s becoming too crowded there.”
Maungdaw District authorities, he said, “will not use force, but if people want to marry [or register newborn children] they have to submit forms to relevant local authorities and gain permission.”
In Maungdaw District, located in northern Arakan State along Burma’s border with Bangladesh, the majority of the population is Rohingya and there is a small Arakanese Buddhist minority.
Burma’s central government, Arakan State authorities and Arakanese politicians have long claimed that the Muslim population in the region is rapidly growing and pushing out local Buddhist communities.
Arakan nationalist leaders said the new regional order had been adopted on May 12 on instructions from the central government in Naypyidaw.
“The two-child policy is only for Bengali fathers and mothers who have no citizenship. They have no ID, they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh,” Than Tun, of the Arakan Social Network, said during an interview in Sittwe last week. “The order came from the president and it was implemented as a regional notice.”
Shwe Maung, a northern Arakan State MP with the ruling Union, Solidarity and Development Party, said he could not confirm that Naypyidaw had ordered the implementation of a two-child policy in Maungdaw. “If this is from the Union Parliament it should be publicly released. But I didn’t find any information about it,” he said.
Last month, a government report claimed that “high population growth” among the Muslim population had contributed to last year’s clashes between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingyas. It recommended voluntary family-planning measures among the Muslim population.
Inter-communal violence in June and October 2012 killed almost 200 people and displaced about 140,000 people, mostly Rohingyas.
The new order will add to a range of government restrictions imposed on the Rohingya population, such as limits on freedom of movement and access to government services, and existing conditions on recognition of marriages and children.
Burma’s government does not accept the Rohingyas as citizens and terms them “Bengalis,” suggesting that they have come from Bangladesh in recent decades. The Rohingyas claim they are native to Arakan State.
Human Rights Watch has alleged that the government has been complicit in the killings and ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas last year. The US-based group said that since then, “the Burmese government has tightened its discriminatory restrictions on the Rohingya, although many of the policies have been in place for decades.”
Myo Thant, a Rohingya politician from the Democracy and Human Rights party, which is based in Maungdaw District, said that the new two-child policy was based on false allegations by government officials.
“They accuse us of being responsible for an explosion of the Muslim population in Maungdaw District, but this has always been a Muslim majority area with a dense population,” he said.
Myo Thant said Arakanese leaders and the central government had long contrived to control the Rohingya population and limit their rights.
“Since 1988, they have tried to control the birth rates,” he said, adding that families in Maungdaw District had been subject to the authority of local battalions of the Burmese border security force, the Nasaka, which has the power to approve registration of Rohingya newborns and marriages.
(Additional reporting in Sittwe by Htet Naing Zaw)