Home minister says no plan to amend law to ban unilateral child conversions

Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is pictured in Parliament April 4, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is pictured in Parliament April 4, 2019. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, April 4 — The government has no plans to add Clause 88A to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act, Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said in the Dewan Rakyat today.

Clause 88A was proposed by Barisan Nasional (BN) when it was in power to effectively prohibit any religious conversion of minors by one parent when he or she converts to Islam, but was never implemented due to strong public objections.

“Based on the Federal Court and the High Court's decision in 2018, this ministry is aware of the decision to cancel the unilateral conversion for five individuals under 18 years of age,” Muhyiddin said in response to Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said who raised the issue in the lower House of Parliament.

The home minister said the decision not to proceed was based on a conclusion reached by the Attorney General's Chambers after reconsidering the proposed Clause 88A, which is that it is the judiciary’s role to interpret current laws.

“They came to the conclusion that the courts as a judicial body has the freedom to interpret any legal provisions and the decision of the Federal Court is binding to the lower courts,” Muhyiddin said.

The Federal Court has since ruled to nullify the 2016 unilateral conversion of Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi's three children by her ex-husband who converted to Islam and ran away in 2009 with the youngest child who was only 11 months old at that time.

The Indira Gandhi case was not the first incident of unilateral conversions in the country, but the apex court’s judgment in January 2018 was groundbreaking for ruling that unilateral conversion of minors are unlawful.

When the case first went to the courts, then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said that the government might look into amendments to the law and bring it in line with the ruling.

Clause 88A provides for:

(1) Where a party to a marriage has converted to Islam, the religion of any child of the marriage shall remain as the religion of the parties to the marriage prior to the conversion, except where both parties to the marriage agree to a conversion of the child to Islam, subject always to the wishes of the child where he or she has attained the age of eighteen years.

(2) Where the parties to the marriage professed different religions prior to the conversion of one spouse 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.”

However, then minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said the government was unable to table the law without first amending the Constitution because the matter touched on Islamic matters.