Myanmar’s parliament has passed a controversial measure that will make it much harder for Buddhist women to marry non-Buddhist men. The “Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill” is one of several bills passed to protect “race and religion”; Human Rights Watch says they’re backed by extremist Buddhist monks and meant to incite hatred against Muslims.
Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing Myanmar for years, thousands of them in just the past few months alone, frequently fleeing on dangerous, crowded boats to neighboring countries like Malaysia and Thailand, where they are repeatedly sent away. Rohingya are considered “outsiders” by Myanmar’s government, deprived of basic human rights, and frequently confined to prison camps.
The marriage bill, approved by the country’s parliament Tuesday, is considered by observers to be the latest effort to marginalize the Rohingya. It would require Buddhist women—and Buddhism is the majority religion in the country—to register with the government if they intend to marry non-Buddhists. The marriage could be prevented if there are “objections.”
Local human rights activist May Sabai Phyu told Al Jazeera that the bill was pushed by a powerful group of extremist monks, the Ma Ba Tha, or the Committee to Protect Race and Religion. She told the news agency it was a sign that “one dominant religion is starting to influence the state or the government.” Human Rights Watch calls the law “incredibly dangerous.”
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Nationalist Buddhist monks shout slogans during a protest rally in Yangon, Myanmar, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Around 300 protesters claimed that the people washing ashore in Southeast Asia were not Rohingya Muslims, who they claim “do not exist.” Image via AP.