Myanmar opposition leader and pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi condemned on Monday a policy by a district government to limit Muslim Rohingya families to two children in an effort to curb their population growth.
The two-child policy dates back to 1994, but it does not appear to have been enforced until recent weeks. "They shouldn't discriminate. This is against human rights," Suu Kyi told journalists.
An estimated 800,000 Rohingya live in Rakhine State in the west of Myanmar. Many of the Buddhist majority in the country consider them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and the government refuses to grant them citizenship.
Nobel Peace Prize-winner Suu Kyi has been heavily criticised for not speaking up for their rights, even after clashes with Rakhine State Buddhists last year in which at least 192 people were killed and 140,000 made homeless.
Most of the victims were Rohingya and many remain in camps they are not allowed to leave. The Arakan Project, an organisation that lobbies for the rights of Rohingya, said in a 2012 report the two-child policy was not enforced after it was introduced 19 years ago.
A commission appointed to look into last year's violence recommended in an April 29 report that if the government went ahead with a proposed family planning programme, it should "refrain from implementing non-voluntary measures which may be seen as discriminatory or that would be inconsistent with human rights standards".
A senior immigration official, using the term "Bengali" for Rohingya that is widely used by Buddhists, said authorities in Maungdaw District had decided to enforce the directive "following the recommendations in the report".
"Under this directive, Bengali men are allowed to have only one wife and each married couple can have two children. Where there are more than two children, they are considered illegal," he said, asking not to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
"As far as I know, there are also plans, according to the recommendations, to encourage Muslim women to go to school and to educate them on the benefits of restricting family size."
One government policy that is enforced requires that Rohingya get official permission to marry. Their access to education and employment is limited. Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, told Reuters this month that the government should amend a 1982 law that bars Rohingya from citizenship.
"If they have the right to be citizens, most of the problems will be solved," he said. Nyan Win said the law should be amended even if that was opposed by Rakhine Buddhists. "The Rakhine people have no real solution," he said. "They want to kick out all the Bengali. It's not possible."