KUALA LUMPUR: S. Deepa’s children should be able to choose which religion they want to follow “when they are of the age to decide”, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri.
Speaking to the press after a panel discussion at the National Aspiration and Leadership Summit 2016, Nancy said: “Let them decide when they are of the age to decide (which religion they want to follow).”
She said that the welfare of the child was of utmost importance, adding that children need their mother, especially when they are still young.
The messy custody battle between convert Izwan Abdullah and his Hindu ex-wife, Deepa, ended last week when each got one child.
The Federal Court granted custody of their eight-year-old son to Izwan and 11-year-old daughter to Deepa after the five-man panel interviewed both children in chambers.
Izwan, who converted the children without Deepa’s knowledge in 2012, had obtained custody for them from the Seremban syariah court. However, the civil High Court gave custody to Deepa.
A month after Izwan took away their son in April 2014, the High Court ordered the police to assist Deepa in getting the child back but they refused saying he had a custody order as well.
Nancy reiterated that when the case first made waves, she had called on the authorities to think of the welfare of the child above all.
Asked about the proposal by the Muslim Lawyers Association for a tribunal to resolve custody matters for interfaith couples, Nancy said it was a good idea for a third party to give its views in hearing such disputes.
“I work with the ministry in charge of Islamic Affairs ... I’ve discussed the matter with the Attorney-General. He is already doing something about it. It’s on conversion and custody but it’s not just civil law and the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act. It’s also on syariah law for the federal territories. It’s just a matter of getting the laws to be tabled in Parliament now.”
She also encouraged NGOs who were involved in these issues to keep speaking up.
“Let the authorities hear you. I have been working with the authorities on the legal matters as well. A child needs a mother. Think of the welfare of the child,” she reiterated.
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