Controversial census data on religion to be released within two months
The Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population has collated the remaining census figures on religion and ethnicity as part of its 100-day project.
The religion data will be published as soon as the booklets are prepared, checked and printed, a process that is likely to be completed within two months, according to U Myint Kyaing, a permanent secretary at the ministry.
“We will release the numbers for each religion and the percentage breakdown by religion throughout our country,” he said. “We have been ready to release the remaining data since before the previous government’s term ended, but now the new government has agreed to release it.”
Ethnic and religious data from the 2014 census was withheld from results published last year due in part to ongoing debates over who was able to take part in the survey. Respondents were told to identify only from among a list of the 135 officially recognised ethnic groups, even though the catalogue was criticised for being out of date and inaccurate.
While the religious data will be released, the ethnic data will continue to be withheld pending consultations with ethnic minority groups, U Myint Kyaing told The Myanmar Times.
“Our ministry will release the ethni-city information after discussions with the ethnic leaders. But we cannot set a date in the current situation,” he said.
He added that there were “unspecified problems” with the ethnic data, and that the discussions will likely take some time.
The substantial non-enumerated population – roughly estimated to be 1.2 million people – included groups in areas controlled by ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Kayin states. The largest population that was not tallied were those in Arakan (Rakhine) State who are as Rohingya, a term the government decided not to allow after a last-minute change.
The International Technical Advisory Board, the United Nations Population Fund and a national-level consultant committee had all backed releasing the full census results after a conference in October. The board also advised the Department of Population to publish the data on national races by state and region, listed in alphabetical order to minimise controversy.
Former Immigration and Population Department director U Nyi Nyi told The Myanmar Times before the election that the religious data was being kept secret to avoid shattering the peace and stability of the state. In February, the same argument was used about a release during the transition period.
Religious groups responded to news of the impending religious census release with mixed reactions.
U Maung Maung, a central executive committee member of the nationalist group Ma Ba Tha, said yesterday that the release of religious data could be a problem if there are many more Muslim people in the country than previously anticipated. However, he said the government should not fear a backlash or renewed sectarian conflict over the figures.
“The data could be useful for the new government and have an effect on planning,” he said.
While officially just 4 percent of the national population is Muslim based on the 1983 count, the figure from 2014 is anticipated to be much larger. Some observers have suggested that this likelihood could reignite communal tensions, and so prompted delaying the release of data.
Daw Khon Ja, coordinator of the Kachin Peace Network, said she is worried about how nationalists will respond, and suggested the government take security precautions and protect religious minority groups before revealing the religious results.
“I think it cannot turn out well for the government because the Ministry of Religious Affairs won’t support other [minority] religions,” she said.
U Aung Naing, an official from the Interfaith Dialogue Group, said, “The data should be released. It’s not a problem. There is no gamble about it.”
The previous government collected the census data from March 29 to April 10, 2014, in the first count to be conducted in more than 30 years. The provisional results showed that Myanmar’s population was about 9 million short of previous estimates.
The Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population released the occupation and industry data last month, revealing that more than one in five children between ages 10 and 17 go to work instead of school.
Note: Changes have been made, THE MYANMAR TIMES is not responsible for these.
Source: THE MYANMAR TIMES