A Myanmar monks’ convention has agreed to draw up draft legislation to impose restrictions on interfaith marriage, sources said on Friday.
The decision was reached on Thursday at a meeting of 1,530 senior monks from across the country who gathered in Yangon to debate legislation proposed by extremist cleric Wirathu that would place restrictions on Buddhist women marrying outside their faith.
The convention agreed to set up an association to pursue the interfaith marriage proposal and other legal means of protecting Buddhism, said Damapiya, the convention’s spokesman.
Although monk Wirathu’s original draft law was aimed only at Muslims, the monks’ convention supported an amended version that would require any non-Buddhist man who marries a Buddhist to convert to her faith, and requires the women to get permission from her parents and local authorities before going ahead with the marriage.
“We have a team which includes lawyers, well-educated persons and monks who will draw up the draft law to protect our nationals,” said the convention spokesman, equating “nationals” with Myanmar Buddhists.
Buddhism is the proclaimed faith of about 90 per cent of Myanmar’s 60 million population, while Islam and Christianity account for less than 5 per cent each.
Sectarian clashes have been on the rise in Myanmar since June 2012, when Buddhist communities in Rakhine State attacked Rohingya Muslims, leaving 167 people dead and 125,000 people homeless. The incident was sparked by the alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslims.
“The important thing is that we must take care not to attack others, while protecting our nationals and our religion,” said Sitagu Sayadaw, one of Myanmar’s most prominent Buddhist monks, who attended Thursday’s conference.
The interfaith marriage draft legislation would be submitted to parliament for a vote.
“We want to know the MPs who will oppose our draft law,” said Wimala Buddhi, abbot of a monastery in Mawlamyine, southern Myanmar.
“If we know, we will tell the people, and his constituency will not to vote for him or her in the 2015 election.” Rising sectarian violence poses one of the greatest political challenges to Myanmar’s elected President Thein Sein.
Mr. Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party will face off against democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy in the coming polls.
Ms. Suu Kyi last week criticised the proposed marriage law for discriminating against women and running counter to human rights.
“Human rights is not law,” said monk Wirathu after Thursday’s convention. “It’s just a standard. We need to do whatever is necessary to protect our nationals,” he said.