Opposition lawmaker Teresa Kok welcomed today the government’s proposed amendment to marriage laws to check unilateral religious conversions of underaged children.
But the Seputeh MP also urged the government to ensure the proposed amendment is stated in unambiguous language that will leave no room for future misinterpretations, which she pointed out was what had led to the recent controversies.
“It is good news that after seven long years, the government has finally decided to exercise political will by putting into real effect the April 2009 Cabinet decision to ban unilateral conversion of minors.
“I wish to call on the government to ensure that the banning of unilateral conversion of minors is made totally clear and to that there should be no room for misinterpreting the federal constitution in future,” she said in a statement.
She was responding to Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz who had remarked on the issue in a recent interview with Malay Mail Online that the proposed changes to the Law Reform (Marriages and Divorce) Act 1976 will include the consent of both parents before any of their children can be converted to a new religion.
Kok highlighted a June 2014 incident involving remarks by Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom as the minister in charge of Islamic affairs as an example of mixed messages from the government that had tied up child conversion disputes in the courts for close to a decade.
Jamil Khir, she said, had told Parliament in a ministerial reply then that the consent of one parent sufficed to enable the conversion of a child born to a civil marriage, purportedly citing from a 2010 Federal Court judgement on a case involving a Hindu mother whose estranged Hindu-turned-Muslim husband secretly converted their two young children.
Kok emphasised that the Federal Court had not made any ruling as claimed by the minister, adding that the original wording of the laws meant that the consent of both parents was required to decide the faith of their child at the time of marriage.
Nazri who was formerly de facto law minister, said Putrajaya will initiate legal reforms for divorce cases involving non-Muslims and Muslim converts that will resolve the thorny issue of unilateral child conversions.
The Malay Mail Online