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Monday, 7 April 2014

Commission to Finish Draft Myanmar Interfaith Marriage Bill Next Month

Commission to Finish Draft Myanmar Interfaith Marriage Bill Next Month

President Thein Sein (left) addresses Myanmar's parliament in Naypyidaw on March 26, 2014.
The Myanmar government’s draft bills restricting interfaith marriage and imposing population control measures will be completed next month, according to the secretary of the commission tasked with writing up the controversial legislation.

The commission expects to release the two draft bills to the public in early May, before they must be submitted to President Thein Sein by June 30, commission secretary and deputy director general of the Union Attorney General’s Legislative Drafting Department said Thursday.

Following Thein Sein’s approval, the drafts would then be sent to parliament for consideration.

The proposed interfaith marriage legislation will protect women’s rights and freedom of religion, Win Myint told RFA’s Myanmar Service, following concerns raised by a U.S.-based rights group that it would be “discriminatory” and restrict women’s choice in who they marry.

“Our commission has been writing two bills, on interfaith marriage and population and birth control, since March and they will be released in early May for suggestions from the people,” he said.

"There is no blocking of freedom of religion, and we will make sure that women will not lose their basic rights,” he said.

Two related pieces of legislation banning polygamy and placing curbs on religious conversion are being written up by Myanmar’s central court, he said.

The 12-member commission was formed by President Thein Sein on March 7 following a request last year from a group of nationalist Buddhist monks for a set of four bills aimed at “protecting race and religion.”

'Major reversal' on rights

In March U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) slammed proposed the interfaith marriage law it said lawmakers and the government was considering, saying it would be a “major reversal for religious freedom and women’s rights.”

According to a copy of the legislation under consideration that HRW had seen, Buddhist women would only be allowed to marry Buddhist men, the group said.

In addition, any non-Buddhists who seek to marry a Buddhist in violation of the law could face up to 10 years in prison and have their property confiscated, according to the group.

It would also require prospective grooms to obtain written approval in advance from the bride’s parents or legal guardian before a wedding could proceed, though men would not need the approval of their parents to marry, HRW said.

The group warned that, if enacted, such legislation could deepen sectarian rifts in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where at least 250 people have died in several bouts of religious violence since 2012, many of them ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims.

Win Myint said his commission has not yet met with Buddhist monks who recommended the laws, but will do so after the drafts are released to the public.

The commission is made up of officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Immigration and Population Affairs as well as lawyers, historians, and others. 
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