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Burma to Strip Brides of Rights in Shocking New Intolerance

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
PHUKET: Burmese President U Thein Sein and National Assembly Speaker U Thura Shwe Mann should reject proposals for discriminatory marriage legislation that would strip Buddhist women of the right to freely choose whom they marry, Human Rights Watch said today.

Burma's donors should make it clear that passage of such a discriminatory law will put at risk continued increases in levels of aid and investment.

The discriminatory Emergency Provisions on Marriage Act for Burmese Buddhist Women is being considered by the government and National Assembly speaker after being submitted by a coalition of Buddhist monks and laypersons.

''It is shocking that Burma is considering enshrining blatant discrimination at the heart of Burmese family law,'' said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

''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.''

The proposed law, seen by Human Rights Watch, restricts Buddhist women to marrying only Buddhists. It requires individuals holding other religious beliefs to convert to Buddhism before marrying a Buddhist, and seek written parental consent of the bride.

The proposed law also sets out a 10-year prison sentence and confiscation of properties of any non-Buddhist who seeks to marry a Buddhist in violation of the law.

On February 25, 2014, Thein Sein proposed in a letter to Shwe Mann that a marriage law and three other laws be drafted by the National Assembly to ''preserve race and religion.''

Two days later, on February 27, Shwe Mann replied by letter that the marriage law should be drafted by the Office of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and that when it was ready the National Assembly would consider it.

The proposed law would also require men intending to marry to obtain written approval in advance from the bride's parents or legal guardian before a wedding can proceed, seriously jeopardising women's autonomous decision making and their freedom to start a family of their choice.

Men would not need the approval of their parents to marry.

The proposed marriage law would violate fundamental rights to liberty and religious belief, and prohibitions against discrimination enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It would also violate article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to which Burma is a party, which specifies that governments have an obligation to eliminate discrimination against women in matters relating to marriage and should ensure that women and men have ''the same right to enter into marriage.''

The Burmese constitution, in article 348, states that, ''The Union shall not discriminate any citizen of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, based on race, birth, religion, official position, status, culture, sex and wealth.''

Adams said: ''In ethnically and culturally diverse Burma, government leaders are playing with fire by even considering proposals that would further divide the country by restricting marriage on religious lines.

''Donors and development partners who care about progress towards human rights and democracy in Burma should demand the government end its contemplation of this shocking law.''

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Burma, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/burma

Comments

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I won't get into the rights and wrongs of this proposed legislation, but, it is identical to the rules governing Muslim women in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Hypocrisy at work?

Posted by Sir Burr on March 25, 2014 08:42

Editor Comment:

These proposed laws relate to Burma's Buddhist brides. There is no similarity with Malaysia or Indonesia. It's already much tougher for Muslim brides in Burma.

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Sir Burr, The laws in Malaysia apply to men and women.
I submit the headline is misleading; "Burma to.." is a lot different than an extremist group submitting a bill to be considered.
It is interesting to note that the Myanmar Constitution guarantees rights of women, something the USA has yet to ratify.

Posted by The Night Mare on March 25, 2014 10:37

Editor Comment:

''On February 27, Shwe Mann replied by letter that the marriage law should be drafted by the Office of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and that when it was ready the National Assembly would consider it.''

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My friend married a Malaysian Muslim lady. The parents were fine, but he had to convert and take classes to satisfy the Imam. He also had to get his willy cut! True love. This was about 20yrs. ago, so not sure it still happens.

Posted by GiantFan on March 25, 2014 12:47

Editor Comment:

The rules haven't changed, GiantFan.

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Ar, c'mon Burma ! What was all that crap about reforming last year ? Did you achieve your goals and now it's time to revert back ? World leaders please take note ! Sanctions back please (not an expert but I think that may be the means)! BTW there is no such thing as 'race', only ethnicity. 'Race' implies lines of distinction which don't exist - at what point in Africa going down from Morocco, do you classify someone as 'whatever name you choose to describe the group you want to persecute' ? It can't be done. There is only ethnicity, which is a merging and mixing of geographical and cultural backgrounds, intertwined with history and the movement of people. (Sorry for the lecture.) So not only is your newly proposed law horrific in terms of human rights (which admittedly I don't expect you to give a flying squirrel about) but it's also flawed by definition. Good job you kept your citizens too persecuted to hire a lawyer. Well done you.

Posted by James on March 25, 2014 18:27

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So this kind of legislation already exists in Malaysia and Indonesia, but nobody has considered cutting aid to them. And now suddenly when Burma considers something similar, it's an outrage? Is that because it's aimed only at women? If the law had been introduced for both sexes everything would be fine or what? With no outrage?

Posted by christian on March 25, 2014 18:46

Editor Comment:

Buddhist societies in a democracy are not supposed to be repressive, christian. It's a backwards step. The other countries you mention have religious reasons for their approach. Someone needs to explain to you the difference between Islam and Buddhism, christian.

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"To" do something is a different thing than to "consider" doing it, no matter what fanatic writes a letter urging it.

Posted by The Night Mare on March 25, 2014 20:36

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This legislation is not to prevent whoever wants to convert at their own will but to protect those who are being force to convert against their own will. It has happened a lot because one particular religion is intolerant against other religion.

Posted by Myanmar Guy on March 26, 2014 10:06

Editor Comment:

Surely the way to prevent unwanted conversions is to make sure that the lifestyle presented by religion A is far more appealing than the lifestyle presented by religion B. Legislation and prayers don't often mix very well. Better to let people choose their own way of life and religion.


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