Burma Finalizes Ethnic Census Data

By Tin Htet Paing 26 December 2016

RANGOON — Burma will try to finalize census figures on its ethnic demographics by early 2017, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population has said.

Due to controversial debates, figures on the country’s religious and ethnic population were withheld from publication of the 2014 census last year, which revealed the total population of the country to be more than 51 million. However, data on religion was released in late July and the ethnic population information was delayed again.

U Myint Kyaing, the ministry’s permanent secretary, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that his office “aims to finalize the process within the first four months of 2017,” consulting with ethnic community leaders, the Union-level ethnic affairs committee, and experts for further statistical analysis.

He also said the figures “will not be released in a rush,” in order to avoid errors. He explained that the figures would reveal the population of each ethnic group nationwide, as well as at the state and divisional levels.

U Nyi Nyi, a director at the ministry’s department of population, said negotiations among ethnic community leaders would be consulted again, along with historians, anthropologists, and cultural experts for finalized terminologies and classifications of the ethnic groups.

“Many processes have yet to be finalized,” he said. “Terminologies and spellings varied within tribes when data was collected and these terms need to be standardized by ethnic leaders for accuracy and consistency.”

Ko Naw Aung Sann, general secretary of the Council of Naga Affairs, told The Irrawaddy that his council has proposed that the Union government separate ethnic “Naga” from “Chin” in the new census.

Burma conducted its last census in 1983 and recognized 135 official ethnic groups. The statistics classified the ethnic “Naga” as “Chin.”

“The [Union] government needs to recognize it officially,” he said, explaining that there are 12 sub-tribes that are currently living in Burma under the ethnic Naga group.

“Having many different sub-tribes under the ethnic Naga group is not a problem,” he stressed. “Classifying Naga identity as ethnic Chin is the main problem.”

One of the most controversial issues was that an estimated 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims in western Burma’s Arakan State were not counted in the 2014 census. The country’s 1982 Citizenship Law—which narrows citizenship eligibility along ethnic lines—excludes the Rohingya from recognition as one of the country’s ethnic groups.

The law requires unrecognized groups to prove family residency over three generations—which is difficult for most since the majority of people in Burma went without documents prior to laws introduced in 1951 requiring registration.