Myanmar's president has signed off on a controversial law requiring some mothers to space their children three years apart. Critics warn it could be used to repress not only women, but religious and ethnic minorities.

The Population Control Health Care Bill — drafted under pressure from hard-line Buddhist monks with a staunchly anti-Muslim agenda — was passed by parliamentarians last month.

It is part of a package of four laws that the U.S. and others have said could fan the flames of intolerance in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 50 million that is already grappling with sectarian violence.

The law gives regional authorities the power to implement birth-spacing guidelines in areas with high population growth rates.