‘Interfaith Marriage Bill’ Sent Back to Upper House with Reduced Sentences

By Nobel Zaw 12 May 2015

RANGOON — Burma’s Upper House Bill Committee on Monday submitted a report calling for changes to proposed legislation regulating interfaith marriages, recommending that prison sentences for some violations be markedly reduced.

The Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill, commonly referred to as the Interfaith Marriage Bill because of its provisions about marrying outside the family faith, is part of a controversial legislative package known as the Protection of Race and Religion Bills first proposed by Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha.

The Interfaith Marriage Bill was approved by Burma’s Lower House of Parliament on March 19 and resubmitted to the Upper House lawmakers. Discussion will resume before the end of the current 12th session of Parliament.

Parliamentarian Tin Yu, a member of the bill committee, recommended that Parliament reduce maximum sentences from five to two years for men who are found guilty of persuading a Buddhist wife to abandon her faith.

The committee further recommended that sentences and fines be reduced for any man who is found to have insulted his Buddhist wife’s faith, prevented his wife from having a Buddhist funeral, and destroyed or damaged his wife’s sacred objects or place of worship.

The Interfaith Marriage Bill, which has come under harsh criticism from women’s rights advocates and members of the international community, would still require Buddhist women to seek permission from local authorities before marrying a man of another faith.

Minor revisions to the Population Control Bill, which is part of the contentious package, were also registered by the Union Parliament Bill Committee on Tuesday at the request of President Thein Sein.

Two other bills are included in the Race and Religion Protection package which, if passed, would enact new restrictions on religious conversion and polygamy.