A bill which limits child births to one baby per mother every three years was passed by the upper house (amyotha hluttaw) of Burma’s parliament on Wednesday.
The Population Control Healthcare Bill constitutes one part of a controversial four-proposal package that has been tabled in parliament, commonly referred to as the “Race Protection Bill”.
Hla Swe, an MP in the amyotha hluttaw, said: “I believe that a population which is too high can be no good in terms of health. It is dangerous when there is no balance between resources and birth rate, and therefore childbirth should be limited to one per three years.”
A petition by the conservative Buddhist monkhood group Ma-Ba-Tha last year received 100,000 signatures in favour of the Race Protection package, President Thein Sein subsequently ordered the drafting of four bills, namely the Religious Conversion Bill, Monogamy Bill, Population Control Healthcare Bill, and Buddhist Women’s Marriage Bill.
Many observers see the Race Protection bills as attempts to subjugate and control the Muslim community in Burma. Recent bloody confrontations between Muslims and Buddhists have led to a rise in nationalism among Burmese Buddhists across the country. Human Rights Watch say more than 100,000 people have been displaced by communal violence in Arakan State in recent years.
This Population Control Bill, drafted by the Attorney General’s office, was introduced to parliament at the end of the previous legislative session.
Aung Kyi Nyunt, a National League for Democracy MP, and Zone Hle Thang of the Chin Progressive Party argued against the bill in the upper house on Wednesday, but it was passed with more than 100 supporting votes, 10 objections and four abstentions.
The bill is now set to be debated in the lower house.
Last month, 180 women’s groups, networks and civil society organisations voiced their opposition to the proposed race protection package in a signed statement which they delivered to parliament.
Speaking to DVB last month, Khin San Htwe of the Burmese Women’s Union (BWU) said that the BWU “are concerned with the bills as they serve to directly or indirectly control and limit the rights of women.”
She added: “Based on our study of the provisions in the bills, we conclude their purpose was to legally control the female population rather than to protect them.”
The women’s group’s statement has highlighted that in many respects, the proposals would be unconstitutional. It also points out that many of the laws would be in contravention of international legislation, including the Convention Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR).