Amend constitution clause on ‘parent’ to fix interfaith custody tussle, Putrajaya urged
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KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 11 — The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) called on the federal government to commit itself to recognise the right of both parents amid a continuing controversy over interfaith child custody conflicts in the country.
Its chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail expressed the commission’s regret over the withdrawal of a key clause in the government’s amendment of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act that he said would have been the ideal solution to ban the unilateral conversion of children.
“Suhakam calls on the Government to commit firmly to this issue and to recognise the importance of both parents to have equal parental rights and authority in relation to the religion, custody and upbringing of their children, considering the principle of the best interest of the child.
“Suhakam believes that the remedy lies in an amendment to Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution,” Razali said in a statement.
Article 12(4) of the Constitution addresses the religion of minors under age 18, and states that the decision “shall be decided by his parent or guardian”.
However, the constitutional clause has recently turned into a subject of debate with lawyers arguing over the interpretation of the word “parent”; some argue that it should be taken to mean both while others claim it was in the singular context and meant either parent could decide.
“It is our view that the amendment would have resolved interfaith custody conflicts between Muslim and non-Muslim parents; and establish coherent standards for reconciling the principle of the best interest of the child with the Constitutional rights of parents in the exercise of the right to freedom of religion,” Razali said.
The Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2017 was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said last Tuesday.
The new Bill omitted Section 88A from an earlier draft that would have banned the religious conversion of minors by one parent.