Non-Buddhist men may face two years in prison or a 1.5 million kyat (US$1,500) fine, or both, if found to have violated the controversial Buddhist Women’s Marriage Bill, which is currently awaiting a second approval in Burma’s upper house.
The legislative assembly’s Joint Bill Committee on Monday briefed the upper house of parliament and suggested punishments for the bill – which forms part of the so-called package of four ‘race protection laws’ – if it is passed.
The act would punish a non-Buddhist man for marrying a woman if he is deemed to have coerced or forced her to sacrifice her religion. It has been heavily criticised from human rights and women’s rights activists.
After being passed in the upper house in February, it was approved by the lower house after being amended. Once parliament resumed on 11 May it was passed back to the upper house, where it needs be accepted before being signed off by President Thein Sein.
Suggestions and feedback on the bill from members of the public and civil society organisations will be accepted, said the committee.
The Joint Bill Committee’s briefing indicated that men would be subject to the punishments if found in contravention of Articles 19(f), 19(g) or 19(h) of the proposed law, which cover, respectively: allowing a Buddhist wife to freely practice her religious belief; allowing children the freedom to choose which religion to follow; and allowing a Buddhist shrine and images to be kept in the home.
The committee on the same day also presented a parliamentary briefing on the Population Control Healthcare Bill, also part of the race protection package, which had been returned from the president with his comments. The committee suggested terminology in the bill should be updated to conform to the newly adopted structure of the Ministry of Health.
In addition, the committee on Monday also briefed the lower house on the Television and Broadcast Law that had been recently passed, with amendments, by the upper house.
Many observers see the Race Protection bills as attempts to subjugate and control the Muslim community in Burma. In January, a collective of 180 civil society organisations presented a petition to parliament against the race protection bills, asserting that they are discriminatory toward women and can be seen as targeted discrimination against minorities.