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Controversial population control bill becomes law in Myanmar

Myanmar's president has signed off on a law that says couples must space their children 36 months apart. This is the first of four "race and religious protection" laws proposed by Buddhist nationalists.

The president of Myanmar has signed a controversial population control bill into law, state media reported on Saturday. The law requires mothers to have their children three years apart. It was passed over the objections of rights activists, who say that it not only represses women, but also religious and ethnic minorities.

The Population Control Health Care Bill was drafted under pressure from hard-line Buddhists with anti-Muslim sentiment in mind, after being passed by parliament last month and signed by President Thein Sein (pictured above) on Tuesday, according to Burmese media.

Local authorities now have the power to implement three-year birth spacing in areas with rapid population growth, but the statute doesn't describe any punitive measures for parents who do not comply.

After beginning the move from dictatorship to fledgling democracy four years ago, newly inaugurated freedoms of expression have exposed the deep-seated hatred for , thousands of whom have fled the country in boats after facing persecution at home.

Buddhist fundamentalists have repeatedly voiced their belief that Muslims, with their high birthrates, could take over the country of 50 million inhabitants - even though they make up only 10 percent of the population.

Law could escalate 'sectarian violence'

Last week, Human Rights Watch warned that the new law could be used to target minorities.

"Activists with a racist, anti-Muslim agenda pressed for this population law, so there is every reason to expect it to be implemented in a discriminatory way," said Brad Adams, head of Human Rights Watch's Asia office.

"The population bill as well as the other 'race and religion' bills under consideration are likely to escalate repression and sectarian violence," he added.

Three similar bills relating to monogamy, religious conversion and interfaith marriage are currently being debated by parliament.

es/ng (AP, dpa)

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