Myanmar population control law threatens minorities: rights group

Wed Apr 22, 2015 11:50am EDT
 
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By Kieran Guilbert

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Myanmar's religious and ethnic minorities may be targeted, abused and suppressed by a proposed population control law which could be a serious setback for the country's maternal health advances, according to a U.S.-based human rights group.

The bill introduces the practice of birth spacing, requiring women to wait three years between pregnancies, which can curb maternal and child deaths, the Physicians for Human Rights said.

While Myanmar has one of the highest infant mortality rates in Southeast Asia, World Bank figures show, the government has taken action, including access to education and contraception to improve maternal and child health, the rights group said.

Yet the group said it was concerned that the bill, passed by Myanmar's parliament earlier this month and awaiting President Thein Sein's approval to become law, could strip women of the freedom and right to choose how they have children.

"We want to encourage lower fertility rates but it can't be done coercively or by suppressing the growth of marginalized groups," Widney Brown, Physicians for Human Rights' director of programs, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

"If this bill is signed and applied selectively in areas where religious or ethnic minorities are already subjected to persistent and pervasive discrimination, we face a heightened risk of grave human rights violations."

Women could be forced into abortions and both men and women could be sterilized if the bill comes into force, Brown said.

"Without a clear non-coercion and non-discrimination clause, the bill should never have moved forward."   Continued...