RANGOON, Burma — Authorities in Burma’s western state of Rakhine have imposed a two-child limit for Muslim Rohingya families, a policy that does not apply to Buddhists in the area and comes amid accusations of ethnic cleansing in the aftermath of sectarian violence.
Local officials said Saturday that the new measure would be applied to two Rakhine townships that border Bangladesh and have the highest Muslim populations in the state. The townships, Buthidaung and Maundaw, are about 95 percent Muslim.
The unusual order makes Burma perhaps the only country in the world to impose such a restriction on a religious group and is likely to fuel further criticism that Muslims are being discriminated against in the Buddhist-majority country.
China has a one-child policy, but it is not based on religion and exceptions apply to minority ethnic groups. India briefly practiced forced sterilization of men in a bid to control the population in the mid-1970s when civil liberties were suspended during a period of emergency rule, but a nationwide outcry quickly shut down the program.
Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing said the new program was meant to stem rapid population growth in the Muslim community, which a government-appointed commission identified as one of the causes of the sectarian violence. Although Muslims are the majority in the two townships in which the new policy applies, they account for only about 4 percent of Burma’s roughly 60 million people.
The measure was enacted a week ago after the commission recommended family planning programs to stem population growth among Muslims, Win Myaing said. The commission also recommended doubling the number of security forces in the volatile region.
Sectarian violence in Burma first flared nearly a year ago in Rakhine state between the region’s Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya. Mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes razed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds of people dead and forcing 125,000 to flee, mostly Muslims. Witnesses and human rights groups say riot police stood by as crowds attacked Muslims and burned their villages.
The central government has not made any statement about the two-child policy, which was introduced at a local level. Calls seeking comment Saturday from two government spokesmen were not immediately returned, but Rakhine state official Myo Than said that all local policies require “consent from the central government.”