Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (top centre-L) and members of parliament stand as the Parliament Speaker (unseen) enters during the Union Parliament regular session in Naypyitaw March 26, 2015. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun - RTR4UWIT

Although we have often talked about China’s approach to state-enforced population control via its infamous “one-child policy”, it is important to remember that China is not the only country to try and fix its demographic future. For example, last year we reported on Vietnam and its recently retired “two child policy”. And now Burma (or Myanmar) has recently passed a law that seeks to control the country’s population. According to this report from Deutsche Welle:

“The president of Myanmar has signed a controversial population control bill into law, state media reported on Saturday. The law requires mothers to have their children three years apart. It was passed over the objections of rights activists, who say that it not only represses women, but also religious and ethnic minorities.”

Now, currently Burma’s population is about 60 million, but its current total fertility rate is at only 2.23 children per woman, not too far above the replacement rate of 2.1. So where is the crisis of burgeoning population growth to justify such a measure? Well, apparently the Act (The Population Control Health Care Act) was drafted under some pressure “from hard-line Buddhists with anti-Muslim sentiment in mind” according to Burmese media. It is the belief of some that the Muslim proportion of the population (around 10 percent of the whole) has such a high birth rate that it could end up becoming the majority in the future. The head of Human Rights Watch’s Asia office, Brad Adams, certainly thinks that this is what is driving the measure and is not afraid of pulling any punches in saying so:

“Activists with a racist, anti-Muslim agenda pressed for this population law, so there is every reason to expect it to be implemented in a discriminatory way”

The power has been given to local authorities to implement the three-year birth spacing requirement in areas with rapid population growth, but as the statute doesn’t describe any punitive measures for non-compliance, I presume it will be up to the local authorities to tailor their own penalties. 

Once again we can see a government seeking to regulate the most intimate decisions that families can make. Presumably if the new Act is to have any effect on people’s decisions the authorities will have to come up with some way of enforcing it and placing people in impossible situations of bending to the law or facing the consequences. Presumably this Act will fall on the poorest most heavily (particularly if the penalty is pecuniary) and presumably will further exacerbate feelings between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority. Whether it will have a deleterious effect on Burma’s fertility rate remains to be seen.

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...