Unilateral conversion of kids: More calls in Malaysia to amend law

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PETALING JAYA The call for the Malaysian government to amend the law to prevent unilateral conversion of children has received strong support from moderates, lawyers and politicians.

Universiti Malaya emeritus professor of law Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi said it would be good to reintroduce Clause 88A to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act (LRA).

On Nov 21, 2016, Parliament tabled a Bill to amend the LRA with the insertion of Clause 88A but withdrew it on Aug 7 last year after strong objections. It passed the Bill without the clause three days later.

Clause 88A states that the religion of the child "shall remain as the religion of the parties to the marriage prior to the conversion" and that the child can, after turning 18 and with the consent of both parents, convert to Islam.

The Federal Court ruled on Monday to nullify the unilateral conversion of M. Indira Gandhi's three children by her ex-husband.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said the Government may consider amending the law to bring it in line with the ruling.

"It will be good to introduce Clause 88A to incorporate the Federal Court's ruling, and in the meantime, contradictory federal and state legislation must also be read subject to the ruling," said Prof Shad, adding that the apex court's ruling is law.

"To ignore a judicial ruling is contempt of court. Parliament is not supreme. Neither is executive policy," he said.

"The law is what the judges interpret it to be." Prof Shad said it was unfair that some people are questioning the decision of the Federal Court on religious grounds.

He said the judges were not deciding on issues of syariah or fiqh (juristic reasoning) but on constitutional and administrative law.

Moderation advocate Mohamed Tawfik Ismail said the court's decision emphasised the constitutional safeguards every Malaysian enjoys. "The Government has decided to come to the side of the court's decision, which should be crystallised into law," he said.- THE STAR