This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Political Demography and Religion--Burmese Style

Over the past few weeks we have heard the horrific stories of refugees from Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh trying to fleeing their country of origin by boat, only to be left drifting at sea because no one wants to take them in. The worst situation is with respect to the refugees from Burma, as noted in an editorial in today's Los Angeles Times:
While Bangladeshis are fleeing poverty, the refugees from Myanmar are Rohingya Muslims trying to escape their country's shameful, long-standing persecution. A minority in a Buddhist-majority country, they have been subject to sectarian violence and denied rightful citizenship for decades. Most of the 1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar's western Rakhine state, and as many as 140,000 currently are in squalid displaced persons camps. The government, wrongfully, considers them illegal immigrants and won't even call them Rohingya, referring to them as Bengalis.
In a not-at-all subtle fashion, the government of Myanmar is trying to get rid of its Muslim population. It started on a new strategy this week by passing a new population control bill:
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.

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.
This is a case of true demographic hysteria. The recently released report by Pew Research on its population projections by religion suggest that, in fact, only 4% of Burma's 54 million people are currently Muslim, and they project that to increase to only 5% by 2050. Now, to be sure, the overall Burmese population has experienced a truly dramatic drop in fertility over the past few decades. In the 1970s women were still having nearly 6 children each, but that has now dropped to below replacement level. Still, it would take many generations for the Muslim population to take over the country, and it is almost certainly the case that their fertility would also drop if they were allowed to become full-fledged members of Burmese society. 

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