25-year old Kyaw Kyaw Oo takes me to a safe place to talk and he doesn’t want to use his real name.
He’s a Rohingya and he has been waiting for permission to marry his girlfriend.
"I graduated three years ago and I applied for permission to get married two years ago. I heard that if you pay a large amount of money, you can get permission immediately," he said.
Failure to get a permit could result in a lengthy jail sentence.
"One of my friends applied for the marriage permit. His documents were approved, but he didn’t have any money to pay the officials. So he didn’t get his documents. But he went ahead with the marriage. The authorities found out and arrested him and put him in jail for seven years,” said Kyaw Kyaw Oo.
In 1994, the Burmese government issued the first local order restricting the marriages of Rohingya. According to the Arakan Project, which records human rights abuses against the Rohingya, marriage permits are only granted after paying bribes and after long delays.
"For me it’s very clear that this is a tactic from the government to control the population. In one parliamentary session, the Ministry of Immigration explained that preventing marriages was a way to reduce population,” said Chris Lewa from Arkan Project.
And as a result he says there are many cases of illegal marriages among the Rohingya.
“We find many young couples run to Bangladesh because they can’t marry in Burma and their parents can’t pay the fee. In other cases, the couples continue their relationship without a permit. When the girl becomes pregnant, she has to abort the baby because it’s living proof that they had an illegal marriage,” he explained.
The Arakan Project says the government punishes Rohingya children by putting them on a ‘black list’ if their parents don’t have a marriage permit.
The government announced that about 7,000 Rohingya children born this year are unregistered.
In total, it’s estimated that there are around 40,000 unregistered Rohingya children.
"The government has not issued a birth certificate for Rohingya children since the mid 90s. This means, it will be difficult to prove that he was born inside the country. If a child is not registered, he can never get a identity card, he can’t travel, and can’t go to school. When he becomes an adult, he can’t marry because he has no document,” said Lewa.
In a letter to the United Nations, President Thein Sein said that the Burmese government was prepared to address the sensitive issue of Rohingya citizenship.
He also promised to look at other issues such as work permits and granting freedom of movement for the Rohingya. However, he didn’t say anything about the marriage restrictions.
The Arakan Project is urging the government to tackle this issue.
"They keep the children in hide outs or send them out of the country. We’ve heard stories of Rohingya children being left alone in Bangladesh refugee camps. It’s a very sad situation for the children and the mothers. This marriage issue is a gross human rights abuse against the population,” said Lewa.
If they do get a marriage permit Rohingya parents have to sign an agreement not to have more than two children.