Nazri: Divorce law reforms will end unilateral child conversions

Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz says the amendment of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 will ensure that all divorce cases involving couples married under civil law be heard by the civil courts, even if one of the couples converts to Islam after the marriage. ― Picture by Choo Choy May
Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz says the amendment of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 will ensure that all divorce cases involving couples married under civil law be heard by the civil courts, even if one of the couples converts to Islam after the marriage. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 2 ― Putrajaya’s planned legal reforms for divorce cases involving non-Muslims and Muslim converts will resolve the thorny issue of unilateral child conversions, federal minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said.

Nazri said that the proposed reforms will essentially see the Cabinet abiding by its April 2009 decision which requires both parents' consent before a child of civil marriage can be converted to another religion.

He added that the Bill to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 will ensure that all divorce cases involving couples married under civil law be heard by the civil courts, even if one of the couples converts to Islam after the marriage.

“Once you amend the Act it will lead to, and certainly be a solution for, the issue of unilateral conversion by one parent in the future

“When we do this amendment, in the future it will resolve issues like the Indira Gandhi (case),” Nazri told Malay Mail Online in an exclusive interview recently.

The former de facto law minister was referring to Hindu woman M. Indira Gandhi whose ex-husband had snatched their youngest daughter from her.

Until today, the ex-husband has refused to return the girl to her mother despite the civil court granting her custody.

“Now we are saying that all marriages under civil law must be resolved by the civil courts, it doesn't matter if one person converts to Islam, the marriage took place under civil law.

“This will in turn take into consideration the issue of custody of children, and those who were born out of the marriage under civil law, the civil courts should deal with these cases,” the Padang Rengas MP explained.

“No more cases like Indira Gandhi. The religion of the children (in these disputes) will be the common religion of both parents when they were married under civil law that is only fair,” Nazri said.

Unilateral conversions of minors is part of the reason why there are cases where Muslim converts choose to leave their faith once they become adults.

“That is why we hear of kes-kes murtad (apostasy). In cases like these, if they were raised to be Hindu from young, they should continue assuming that faith,” he added.

Last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said the Cabinet had agreed to table a Bill in Parliament this October to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, which will see divorces for couples married under civil law to be settled in the civil courts even when one of them becomes a Muslim after marriage.

Najib had said the planned legal reform would iron out the problem of overlapping jurisdiction between the civil and Shariah courts.

Groups like the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) have demanded the government state whether the amendments to the law will address the issue of unilateral conversion of minors.

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