Burma’s Buddhist-controlled Rakhine state became one of the first governments to impose a two-child limit for a religious group on Saturday when local authorities announced the rule, which applies to Muslim Rohingya families, but not to Buddhists living in the area.
The announcement comes less than a month after the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released a report that found that the Burmese government had killed more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims in 2012 and had continued to forcibly promote Buddhism and discriminate against other minority religious groups. Media reports say 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.
The Burmese officials said Saturday that the new policy would be applied to two Rakhine townships, Buthidaung and Maundaw, which border Bangladesh and have the highest Muslim population – about 95 percent.
Unlike China’s one-child policy, this new initiative is based exclusively on religion and exceptions apply to minority ethnic groups.
Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said the new program 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, according to the Huffington Post.
“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.”
The predominantly Buddhist Burma does not include the Rohingya as one of its 135 recognized ethnicities. Instead it considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship.
In Burma, Theraveda Buddhism is the dominant religious tradition and Muslims and Christians reportedly make up 8%-10% of the population. In contrast to common representations of Buddhists as inherently peaceful, minority religious groups are subject to pervasive surveillance, imprisonment, discrimination, societal violence, destruction or desecration of property and censorship of religious materials by Buddhists, according to the USCIRF report.
“The military reportedly continues to limit religious worship and forcibly promote Buddhism as a means of pacification in these areas and targets Christians for forced labor, rape, intimidation, and destruction of religious sites,” the April 30 report says. “The government also continues to censor religious publications and prohibits the import of Bibles and Qu’rans in indigenous languages.”
The report found that the Burmese government shows preference for Buddhism through financial support and donations to monasteries, pagodas, monastic schools and missionary activities. Promotions to senior levels of the military and civil service are also reserved for Buddhists.
According to the report, Rohingya Muslims generally experience the worst treatment in Burma.
“Rohingya Muslims, who are denied Burmese citizenship, experience widespread discrimination, strict controls over their religious activities and ceremonies and societal violence that is often incited by Buddhist monks and carried out with impunity by mobs and local militias, including police in Rakhine (Arakhan) State,” the report says. “In the past year, over 1,000 Rohingya have been killed, their villages and religious structures destroyed, and women raped during attacks.”
The USCIRF, an independent federal advisory body created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor religious freedom abuses abroad, outlined the state of religious freedom in 29 countries in its 2013 report.