G25: Restore original wording in Constitution to end unilateral conversion conflict

Deepa Subramaniam outside the High Court in Seremban on April 7, 2014. The Federal Court eventually granted custody of her son to the father. — file picture
Deepa Subramaniam outside the High Court in Seremban on April 7, 2014. The Federal Court eventually granted custody of her son to the father. — file picture

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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 28 ― Putrajaya should amend a 14-year-old printer’s mistake in the Federal Constitution that is the root of conflict between the civil and Shariah courts on interfaith child custody disputes, the G25 Muslim group said today.

The group comprising former senior civil servants including members of the judiciary pointed out in a statement that Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution, which dealt with a proviso on conversion of minors had been arbitrarily changed in newer editions after 2002, which altered its original meaning.

The group said the original Bahasa Malaysia translation for the Federal Constitution proviso ― which was in English ― had indicated that consent from both parents were required in deciding a child’s religion, but the word “atau” [meaning “or”] was inserted after 2002 that indicated either a mother or a father could decide on their offspring’s faith.

The group further highlighted that the revision was not followed up with the necessary amendment through Parliament.

“In the meantime, we would also urge the Government to rectify the mistake made by the Government Printers in the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Federal Constitution and restore the translation of ‘parent’ to the original ‘ibu bapa’,” G25 said.

The group was responding to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s announcement last week that the government planned to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, in a move to resolve the persistent interfaith controversies due to the unilateral conversion of children by one parent.

It also expressed its hope that the government would take a step further and amend the Federal Territories Islamic Law Enactment 1993 and relevant state Islamic enactments “by making it a requirement for both parents to consent to the conversion of their child /children” to be in line with a 2009 Cabinet decision on unilateral conversions of minors.

“At present this is allowed under the existing Federal Territories Islamic Law Enactment and several other State Islamic law Enactments,” it said.

G25 said that this will be in line with the core principle of the amendments that were announced by Najib on August 25.

Najib had said that the amendments, due to be tabled in October, would, among others, make it clear that any issue under a marriage solemnised under the civil law must be settled in civil courts.

G25 also urged state Islamic authorities to determine the real reason behind a particular spouse’s conversion to Islam in order to ensure the person is not trying to escape responsibilities to the family under the civil law.

“This may prevent would-be converts from using conversion to escape his responsibilities to his family under civil law, thus abusing the right to convert and making a mockery of Islam,” it said.

They also urged Islamic authorities to guide converted husbands to prevent him from denying the rights of his non-Muslim wife.

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 converted 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 court granting her custody.

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