Promiscuity, Polygyny and the Power of Revenge: The Past and Future of Burmese Buddhist Law in Myanmar
Asian Journal of Law and Society, 3(1), Special Issue on Buddhism and Law in Asia, 2016, Forthcoming
18 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2016
Date Written: July 14, 2016
Myanmar is the only Buddhism-majority country in the world that has developed and maintained a system of family law for Buddhists enforced by the courts. This article considers the construction of Burmese Buddhist law by lawyers, judges and legislators, and the changes made through legislative intervention in 2015. It begins by addressing the creation and contestation of Burmese Buddhist law to demonstrate that it has largely been defined by men and by its perceived opposites, Hinduism and Islam. Three aspects of Burmese Buddhist Law that affect women are then examined more closely. First, Burmese Buddhist law carries no penalties for men who commit adultery, although women may risk divorce and the loss of her property. Second, a man can take more than one wife under Burmese Buddhist Law, a woman cannot. Third, restrictions on Buddhist women who marry non-Buddhist men operate to ensure the primacy of Burmese Buddhist Law over the potential application of Islamic law. This article deconstructs the popular claim that women are better off under Burmese Buddhist law than under Hindu law or Islamic law by showing how Burmese Buddhist law has been preoccupied with regulating the position of women. The 2015 laws build on this history of Burmese Buddhist law, creating new problems but also potentially acting as a new source of revenge.
Keywords: Myanmar, Burma, Buddhist law, family law, polygamy
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