The country’s umbrella panel representing non-Muslim faiths clarified today it has not agreed to Putrajaya’s proposed amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976.
The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) told a news conference that while it welcomed the government announcement, it is not able to consent to the changes as it has not been consulted or seen the draft proposals that could affect the faith of children born to a marriage in which one spouse later converts.
“While we welcome that the amendment was announced by the prime minister.. we also heard [rumours] MCCBCHST was said to have agreed to the law.
“Until today, we haven’t seen any amendment draft therefore we can’t agree without seeing the draft,” its deputy president Datuk Mohan Shah told reporters here.
The group further noted that the government has yet to share its proposals even though the plan is scheduled to be tabled at the Cabinet meeting tomorrow.
The MCCBCHST emphasised that engagement with representative groups is necessary to ensure key aspects of the Act are revised instead of just limiting the change to giving precedence for civil courts to settle divorce disputes.
It proposed four changes to the Act: The first two are to ensure the civil courts have exclusive jurisdiction to grant decrees of divorce of a civil marriage; to amend the word “parent” in Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution to “parents” to ensure child conversions have the consent of both instead of one.
Its last two proposals were for the civil courts, and not the Islamic courts, precedence to petition for a divorce in civil marriages; and making it compulsory for the spouse to give seven days notice prior notice of his or her conversion.
“The crux of the whole matter is this if you want to amend the Law Reform Act which involves the fabric of the nation you need to present the proposed laws and discuss it with stakeholders.
“You cannot keep it in your safe and then come and talk to us generally. We want to see what is the effect,” MCCBCHST secretary-general Prem Vikash Chandran said.
Last month de facto law minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said deflected the group’s requests to view the amendments, saying she had not viewed the proposed amendments as the Home Ministry was in charge of drafting the changes.
But Mohan alleged that Azalina reportedly said the amendments will not address the issue of unilateral conversion.
“Yesterday the minister said that last week before the Cabinet they have spoken about it without any amendment to unilateral conversion,” he said.
MCCBCHST said the Law Reform Act amendments would be rendered hollow if it fails to address unilateral conversion.
“That is the basis. If not everything else falls,” the group’s vice-president Sardar Jagir Singh told reporters.
In recent years, 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 men snatched the children away from their mothers.
However, in Deepa’s case, the Federal Court subsequently awarded custody of their son to the father.
In Indira’s case, her ex-husband has until today refused to comply with the civil court order awarding custody of their youngest daughter to the mother.
SYED JAYMAL ZAHIID