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Prevent unscrupulous unilateral conversion of minor child by Muallaf spouse — Nicole Wong Siaw Ting

AUGUST 7 — MCA Youth regrets the decision by the government to drop the proposed new Section 88A which was intended to prevent unilateral conversion of minor children by any one parent from the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 which is set to be tabled for first reading tomorrow, as announced by de facto law Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman.

We hope that the recent government decision was not spurred by pressure from extremist groups nor was it for political purposes, as this announcements has once again dashed the hopes of non-converting spouses whose minor children were either snatched away by their Muallaf spouses in total contempt of court-ordered custody award or converted without informing the non-converting spouse.

Despite a Cabinet instruction in April 2009 that should one parent embrace a new religion, the religion of the minor child shall remain as that of the common religion of both parents at the time of their marriage, delays in tabling and passing this Bill will only encourage unscrupulous and vindictive Muallaf spouses to exploit religious departments by secretly rushing their offsprings or bringing their birth certificates there to officially change the creed of their minor children

Failure to table this Bill will see the continued saga of Muallaf parents trying to gain the upper hand in bitter custody disputes by taking advantage via seeking remedy (custody and decision on minor child’s religion) from the Syariah Court whose judge shares the same faith, while the non-converting spouse will seek relief from the civil court. Experience from Indira Gahdhi’s case reveals that the police will not act to recover a snatched minor child, when there are conflicting custody awards by both the civil and Syariah courts, nor make any attempt to search or arrest the Muallaf spouse who is in contempt of the civil court, despite court-ordered committal proceedings. Meanwhile, the non-converting spouse suffers in anguished over the prolonged separation away from the snatched child. 

We appeal to the government to emulate the Negeri Sembilan state government which plans to add a clause to the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Negri Sembilan) Enactment 2003 compelling aspiring aspiring Muslim converts to resolve their family matters including formally divorcing the spouse who refuses to follow the conversion before embracing Islam.

Likewise, the government should also take heed of the call in 2016 by eminent group of retired Malay civil servants better known by its acronym G25 to restore the original wording of the Perlembagaan Persekutuan whereby Article 12 (4) which dealt with a proviso on determining the faith of minors requiring “ibubapa” was changed in subterfuge in newer editions after 2002 to insert “atau” ie “ibu atau bapa” without going through Parliamentary tabling or debates, but had permanently switched its original meaning and intent.

MCA Youth reasserts our party’s longheld position that the religion of minor children must be decided by BOTH parents ie ibubapa as enshrined in the Perlembagaan Persekutuan up to 2002. Should there be a dispute on the minor child’s faith, it must remain as status quo prior to one’s parent’s conversion, and the minor child shall only determine his/her creed upon reaching the age of majority ie 18 years. Furthermore, any marriage contracted by civil law may only be dissolved by civil law irrespective of the new faith of the convert.

Our party’s position remains in line with the dropped new Sections 88A(1) and 88A(2) whereby when one spouse converts to Islam, the religion of the minor child shall remain the religion of the parents at the time their marriage was registered. The child may choose his/her own religion upon attaining 18 years of age.

MCA Youth also supports the proposed new Section 51A which ensure the non-converting spouse, children, parents are entitled to the matrimonial assets should a Muallaf die before the non-Muslim marriage was dissolved.

Nicole Wong Siaw Ting

MCA Youth Vice Chairman

MCA Youth Empowering Women’s Right Committee Chairman

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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