London, 10 June 2015
On 23 May 2015, the Law for Health Care Relating to Control of Population Growth (The Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Law 28/2015), which allows authorities the power to implement "birth spacing", was signed by President Thein Sein. The Law is one of four pieces of legislation that together make up the “Protection of Race and Religion Laws”, a package of bills reported to have been driven by nationalist Buddhist monks with an anti-Muslim agenda. The law permits the government to control population growth in certain areas by limiting how often women may have children. It has been widely condemned both for violating women’s rights and for its potential to be used as a tool for ethnic and religious discrimination against communities like the Rohingya.
According to section 3, the Law aims to reduce poverty, improve livelihoods and provide both quality healthcare and “healthcare relating to population growth for maternal and child health”. However, key sections of the Law give reason for concern:
• Section 2 of the Law states that “Population Growth Control” is control required for balancing population density, high population growth rates and high child birth rates. A method of achieving this is “birth spacing” which is defined as requiring women to wait 36 months after the birth of a child before having another child.
• Section 4 allows the government to conduct surveys of particular areas to determine if there are imbalances between the population and the natural resources in the area.
• Section 6 provides that areas identified as having “imbalances” under section 4 may be reported to the President and the Union government who may then designate the areas as special health care zones, requiring population control measures, including “birth spacing”, to be implemented.
Although no coercive measures or punishments for failing to comply with birth spacing measures are provided in the Law, the Equal Rights Trust is concerned that such measures may be introduced to enforce the law. Furthermore, in addition to the fact that “birth spacing” is a serious breach of a number of fundamental rights of women, there are also a lack of safeguards in the Law to ensure women’s right to make their own choices about contraception and the number and spacing of their children, as required by Article 16 (e) of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Finally, there is no safeguard against the Law’s unequal application and it is widely anticipated that the Law may be used to target minorities such as the Rohingya.
The Equal Rights Trust’s extensive research and documentation on the plight of the Rohingya, conducted since 2010, gives clear reason to believe that the Law may be used to discriminate. In particular, it may be yet another tool used to maintain and further embed the decades of systematic and sustained discrimination and persecution faced by the Rohingya. Accordingly, the Equal Rights Trust calls for the repeal of this Law and also urges Myanmar not to pass the remaining “Protection of Race and Religion Laws”.
Read the latest from the Equal Rights Trust on the situation of the Rohingya: The UN Must Intervene to End Persecution and Discrimination Against Rohingya.
This article is based on an unofficial translation of the Law for Health Care Relating to Control of Population Growth provided to the Equal Rights Trust. The original Law, in the Burmese language, can be found here.