Putrajaya’s planned legal reforms for divorce cases involving non-Muslims and Muslim converts is a good move, but root causes of disputes involving children must also be addressed, an interfaith group said today.
The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) said that the law amendments must also address the root cause of disputes where children are converted without both parents’ consent.
The group pointed out that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in his announcement of the planned legal reforms last week had not mentioned if the issue of unilateral conversion of minors will be addressed.
“Thus, the MCCBCHST would like to enquire whether the Cabinet will abide by its April 2009 decision that both parents must consent before a child of civil marriage could be converted to another religion,” the MCCBCHST said in a statement today as it explained why it was welcoming the prime minister’s remarks with caution.
“This is the crux of the problem. Therefore the PM must assure that the proposed amendments will address this issue and a single parent cannot convert a minor without the consent of the other spouse,” it added.
According to the MCCBCHST, the Cabinet had previously twice proposed amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce Act) 1976, but a single parent was still allowed in both proposed amendments to convert a child of the civil marriage without obtaining the other spouse’s consent.
The interfaith council also asked that the Bill containing the proposed law amendments be made available to it and the public.
The MCCBCHST statement was jointly signed by its president Ven. Datuk Seri Jit Heng, its deputy president Datuk R.S. Mohan Shan, vice-presidents Bishop Sebastian Francis, Sardar Jagir Singh, Daozhang Tan Hoe Chieow and honorary secretary-general Prematilaka Serisena.
Last Thursday, PM Najib said the Cabinet had agreed to table a Bill in Parliament this October to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, with the amendments to see divorces for couples married under civil law to be settled in the civil courts even when one of them becomes a Muslim convert after marriage.
Najib had said the planned legal reform would iron out the problem of overlapping jurisdiction between the civil and Shariah courts.
Recently, Hindu mothers such as S. Deepa and M. Indira Gandhi had been involved in long drawn-out court battles regarding the custody and unilateral conversion of their children by their Muslim convert ex-husbands.
In both cases, the ex-husband snatched away one of their children, and in Deepa’s case, the Federal Court eventually granted custody of their son to the father.
In Indira’s case, her ex-husband has until today refused to hand over their youngest daughter to her despite the civil court granting her custody.
The Malay Mail Online