Proposed amendments to law on child conversion hailed

KUCHING: The proposed amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 to put a stop to unilateral conversion of children below 18 to Islam is a timely and welcome move, said Sarawak PKR chairman Baru Bian.

He said the conversion of children without the knowledge or consent by the non-converting parent violated the parent’s constitutional right to equality as well as the rights of the child under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Malaysia is a signatory.

“These conversions have caused immense suffering and expense to many families in the past. It is hoped that the amendments to the law will prevent such cases in future,” he said in a statement.

Baru also supported the call by the Association of Churches in Sarawak for the state government to amend the Majlis Islam Sarawak Ordinance to be in line with the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act once it is amended.

Section 69 of the ordinance allows a person below 18 to be converted to Islam if his parent (“ibu atau bapa”) or guardian consents to the conversion.

According to Baru, there had been conflicting views and court decisions on the meaning of the word “parent” in Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution, which provides that the religion of children below 18 shall be decided by his parent or guardian, even though the 11th schedule of the Constitution states that “words in the singular include the plural, and words in the plural include the singular”.

He noted that the proposed amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act include a new section which makes clear that both parents in a civil marriage must agree to the conversion of a minor, that the child will remain in the religion practised by the parents at the time the marriage was registered and may choose his own religion on reaching the age of 18.

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