Myanmar should scrap proposed restrictions on interfaith marriages, Human Rights Watch says, warning that the “blatant discrimination” threatens religious freedom and women’s rights.
Muslims, Christians and men of other minority faiths could face up to a decade in prison for marrying Buddhist women under a law being considered by parliament, according to the New York-based watchdog.
The country formerly known as Burma has been shaken by religious strife as it emerges from decades of oppressive military rule, with at least 250 people killed in Buddhist-Muslim clashes since 2012.
President Thein Sein, a former general turned political reformer, last month asked parliament to consider proposed intermarriage restrictions, after a campaign spearheaded by a hardline monk.
“It is shocking that Burma is considering enshrining blatant discrimination at the heart of Burmese family law,” said HRW Asia director Brad Adams.
“This law would strip away from women their right to freely decide whom to marry, and would mark a major reversal for religious freedom and women’s rights in Burma,” he said in a statement.
In a letter to lawmakers, Thein Sein said the proposed legislation was to give “protection” to Buddhists marrying people of other religions.
Full details of the draft law have not been published.
But HRW said a version it had seen would mean that Buddhist women would only be allowed to marry Buddhist men.
The watchdog said it would also require men to seek permission in writing from a Buddhist bride’s parents before marriage, “seriously jeopardising women’s autonomous decision making”.
Myanmar is thought to be around 89 per cent Buddhist, with Christians and Muslims each making up around four per cent – although experts believe the true proportion of religious minorities could be higher.