Authorities in Myanmar's western Rakhine state have imposed a two-child limit for Muslim Rohingya families, a policy that does not apply to Buddhists in the area, and comes amid accusations of ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of sectarian violence.
Local officials said on Saturday that the new measure would be applied to two Rakhine townships that border Bangladesh and have the highest Muslim populations in the state.
The townships, Buthidaung and Maundaw, are about 95 percent Muslim.
The unusual order makes Myanmar perhaps the only country in the world to impose such a restriction on a religious group, and is likely to fuel further criticism that Muslims are being discriminated against in the Buddhist-majority country.
China has a one-child policy, but it is not based on religion and exceptions apply to minority ethnic groups.
India briefly practised forced sterilisation of men in a bid to control the population in the mid-1970s when civil liberties were suspended during a period of emergency rule, but a nationwide outcry quickly shut down the programme.
'Overpopulation causes tension'
Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said the new programme was meant to stem rapid population growth in the Muslim community, which a government-appointed commission identified as one of the causes of the sectarian violence.
Although Muslims are the majority in the two townships in which the new policy applies, they account for only about 4 percent of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people.
The measure was enacted a week ago after the commission recommended family planning programs to stem population growth among Muslims, Win Myaing said.
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 Myanmar 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.
Witnesses and human rights groups said riot police stood by as crowds attacked Muslims and burned their villages.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused authorities in Rakhine of fomenting an organised campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingya.