Suhakam: Amendments to marriage and divorce law reform to benefit child

Tan Sri Razali Ismail says Suhakam supports Putrajaya's move to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 2016. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Tan Sri Razali Ismail says Suhakam supports Putrajaya's move to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 2016. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 6 ― The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) today lauded Putrajaya's move to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 2016, saying that if the proposals were passed, it will be in the best interests of the child.

Its chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail said Suhakam was in support of the proposal to be applied retrospectively in calling both parents in a civil marriage to give consent for their child to be converted to Islam.

“Suhakam supports the proposal that a child shall keep their religious affiliation, so that he or she can freely decide their faith, according to belief, when they attain the age of majority (18 years).

“Suhakam hopes that the issue of unilateral conversion of children in Malaysia and the many obstacles to the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion will be quickly resolved by Parliament through the passing of these amendments,” Razali said in a statement. 

The Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) 2016 was tabled by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman for first reading at the Dewan Rakyat last month, the highlight being the inclusion of a new Section 88A that explicitly states that “both parties” in a civil marriage must agree for the conversion of a minor into Islam.

Specifically addressing the “Religion of a Child” in civil marriages where one spouse has converted to Islam, the amendment also said that the child will remain in the religion of the parents at the time of marriage until the child is 18 years old, when he may choose his own religion.

The proposed amendment also said that if the parties to the marriage professed to different religions prior to one spouses conversion to Islam, “a child of the marriage shall be at liberty to remain in the religion of either one of the prior religions of the parties before the conversion to Islam.”

The issue of unilateral conversions became controversial in recent years after several cases such as that of Hindu mothers M Indira Gandhi and S Deepa, who both faced lengthy court battles to gain custody and also reverse the unilateral conversion of their children by their Muslim convert ex-husbands.