Myanmar bill limits women’s right to wed non-Buddhists

Human rights activists condemn law believed to have been brought in under pressure from hardline monks.

Activists said the government introduced the law under pressure from hardline monks [AFP]

Myanmar’s parliament has approved a law that would regulate marriages between Buddhist women and men from outside their religion.

The move by legislators on Tuesday was condemned by activists and human rights groups, who said the law was passed under pressure from hardline Buddhist monks.

“They [MPs] are not thinking about the people, they are just thinking about themselves to maintain their seats in parliament, ” activist May Sabai Phyu told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

“If they do not approve, Ma Ba Tha [Committee to Protect Race and Religion] will challenge them, and tell people not to vote for them,” she added, referring to an organisation formed of Buddhist monks and which promotes hardline Buddhist nationalism. 

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“They are just doing this for political purposes, it’s not about protecting women’s rights.”

The bill is one of four known as the Protection of Race and Religion Laws, which have been criticised as discriminatory by rights groups.

It mandates that Buddhist women register their intent to marry outside their faith, and that they can be stopped if there are objections.

Rohingya activist Wai Wai Nu, said the move called into question Myanmar’s transition to becoming a more democratic country.

“It seems as if one dominant religion is starting to influence the state or the government. It’s not a good sign for democracy,” she told Al Jazeera.

“It’s very frustrating because the government says we are going to be a democracy…but this kind of law, which restricts rights of women goes against international norms and standards.”

Phil Robertson of New York-based Human Rights Watch said the bill was related to a campaign by Buddhist groups that have incited anti-Muslim hatred, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Religious tensions have led to deadly violence, especially against Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar, many of who have felt compelled to flee abroad.

A previous law passed in May limiting the number of pregnancies women could have was criticised by activists for violating women’s rights and for fears that the country’s Muslim minority would be unfairly targeted.

Al Jazeera’s Florence Looi contributed to this report

Source: Al Jazeera, AP