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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 7 — Sisters in Islam (SIS) today expressed its disappointment over Putrajaya’s decision to abort Section 88A, designed to ban unilateral conversion of children to Islam, from the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill.
SIS also pointed out that unilateral conversion cases often inflict extensive emotional sufferings onto parents like Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi, and this proves a critical need for amendments to the said Bill to prevent similar cases from recurring.
“SIS would like to reiterate that the current law has failed to serve justice or provide substantive legal recourse for the non-converting spouse which subsequently will cause more pain and harm towards them.
“With the long-drawn court processes in having to address jurisdictional issues, more often than not, prolongs the uncertainty and denies justice to be immediately upheld for the families concerned,” the women’s group told Malay Mail Online in a statement.
Indira, a pre-school teacher, made national headlines following her years of court battle, after her ex-husband, a Muslim convert, also converted their three children.
The group also criticised Putrajaya for having “lack of commitment” despite promising to address the matter in 2016.
“Withdrawing the Bill shows lack of commitment by the government to uphold and protect the rights of non-converting spouses especially in cases where there is unilateral conversion to Islam,” SIS said.
“It is reminded that in 2016, the government had expressed commitment in amending and improving the existing law to resolve this issue, given that Malaysia is a plural society and this was supported by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the Cabinet.”
G25 member Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin said, however, that Section 88A was problematic, citing lawyers who said it was arguably unconstitutional because it negated religious freedom for minors below 18 and did not adequately address cases of sincere conversions to Islam.
“For example, a Christian mother with a newborn child sincerely converts to Islam. You would now have a situation where a Muslim convert has to ensure that the child under her custody has to be raised a Christian. This is a very strange outcome and might arouse resentment among religious communities,” she told Malay Mail Online.
“An appropriate amendment should be made to the Administration of Islamic Law Act to ensure that a child of a civil marriage is only registered a Muslim if civil courts grant an order to that effect. That should resolve the issue and avoid negative sentiments,” she added.
Putrajaya had earlier today withdrew a Bill from Parliament that would have prohibited the religious conversion of children needing only the consent of one parent after conservative Muslims protested against it.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman informed the withdrawal of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 in the Dewan Rakyat this morning.
In a statement issued later, Azalina said the government will table a new version of the Bill for first reading tomorrow, but with the removal of Section 88(A) that states that should a spouse convert to Islam, a child must remain in the religion of the parents during their marriage prior to the conversion unless both spouses agree to convert their child to Islam, subject to the child’s wishes upon turning 18.
Many had anticipated the government to table the Bill for second reading in the current Dewan Rakyat sitting after it was already delayed in April.