12/04/2014, 00.00
MYANMAR

Burmese President signs the "shameful law" regulating religion, marriages and family life

The draft law is before Parliament for final approval. It places limits on conversions, constraints on marriage between spouses of different faiths and introduces family planning methods. Activists and civil society criticize: it discriminates against a particular nationality and religion, turns marriage into a "trap".

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Burmese President Thein Sein has approved the controversial bill on religion and family planning, sending it to the Parliament for final approval. He signed it yesterday and immediately sparked protests and criticism from human rights activists and associations who judge the new norm  "discrimination against women" and "Muslims", in a nation that is still conservative and Buddhist majority. The ball is now in Parliaments court when it meets next week to discuss the various points in question, which include restrictions on mixed marriages, conversions and the number of people per household.

The law signed yesterday by President is the result if a campaign led by a radical and extremist Buddhist group called the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion which has put forward four proposals that regulate marriage, the practice of worship, polygamy and family planning.

Under the proposed norm, anyone wishing to convert to another religion will have to follow complicated bureaucratic procedures or face yet to be decided penalties. It also regulates the marriage of Buddhist women with men of other religions. These women will have to ask permission from the local authorities to celebrate the wedding, prior to it being publically registered. The spouses may marry "only if" there are no objections and, in case of violation of the law, could face up to several years in prison.

Activists of the Kachin Peace Network say that "the government wants to discriminate against a particular nationality and religion" and branded the new law as a "shame for all citizens of Myanmar." And women's movements warn of possible abuse of the female partner in the couple, calling it a "double trap".  The project of family planning, which would impose restrictions on births has also met with widespread criticism.

The demand for laws protecting religion (Buddhism) and race in Myanmar, particularly among radical Buddhist groups, has grown in tandem with the violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine, in 2012. The clashes between the two communities have caused more than 200 deaths and at least 140 thousand displaced persons; although the law signed by President does not make a specific references to any religion, many believe that it was written to prevent Muslims from converting Buddhist women through marriage.

There have been long running protests against the law that will legislate for religions, marriages and family life.  May last, a movement composed of 97 different multi-ethnic and multi-religious associations - including Christians and Catholics - slammed the proposal because it "attacks women and religious harmony" and was drawn up to cover political interests. Last January, the the Archbishop of Yangon, Msgr. Charles Bo, also spoke out on the issue declaring that  "the right to marry, convert and vote are inviolable human rights".

 

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