Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has condemned a policy to limit Muslim Rohingya families to two children.
The policy, put forth by a district government on Monday, dates back to 1994, but does not appear to have been enforced until recent weeks. It does not apply to Buddhists and comes amid accusations of ethnic cleansing.
“They shouldn’t discriminate. This is against human rights,” said Suu Kyi, adding that the policy is also illegal.
The central government has not made any statement about the two-child policy since Rakhine state authorities quietly enacted the measure a week ago.
An estimated 800,000 Rohingya live in Rakhine state in the west of Myanmar, and are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by the Buddhist-majority in the country.
Nobel laureate Suu Kyi has been criticised for not speaking up for their rights, even after clashes between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine state last year in which at least 192 people were killed and 140,000 lost their homes.
Most of the victims were Rohingya and many remain in camps they are not allowed to leave.
Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, told Reuters news agency that the government should amend a 1982 law that bars Rohingya from citizenship.
“If they have the right to be citizens, most of the problems will be solved,” he said.
Win said the law should be amended even if that was opposed by Rakhine Buddhists.
China has a one-child policy, but it is not based on religion and exceptions apply to minority ethnic groups.
The Arakan Project, an organisation that lobbies for the rights of Rohingya, said in a 2012 report that the two-child policy was not enforced after it was introduced 19 years ago.
A commission appointed to look into last year’s violence recommended in an April 29 report that if the government went ahead with a proposed family planning programme, it should “refrain from implementing non-voluntary measures which may be seen as discriminatory or that would be inconsistent with human rights standards”.
A senior immigration official, using the term “Bengali” for Rohingya that is widely used by Buddhists, said authorities in Maungdaw District have decided to enforce the directive “following the recommendations in the report”.
“Under this directive, Bengali men are allowed to have only one wife and each married couple can have two children. Where there are more than two children, they are considered illegal,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“As far as I know, there are also plans, according to the recommendations, to encourage Muslim women to go to school and to educate them on the benefits of restricting family size.”