PETALING JAYA: Moderate Malaysians are making a stand against the unilateral conversion of children, urging that they be allowed to hold on to their original faith until they can decide for themselves at age 18.
Businessman and moderation activist Anas Zubedy said a child’s religion must be agreed on by both parents.
“Unilateral conversions should not be allowed for whatever religion, be it Islam, Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism.
“Should a parent convert to a religion different from that at the time of marriage, especially during dissolution of the marriage, the children should remain in the original faith until they turn 18,” he said.
He was commenting on a parliamentary reply by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom who said that any proposed law to ban unilateral conversions in Malaysia will contravene the Federal Constitution.
Anas said “it is incumbent” for parents to show their children the beauty of their faith, new or otherwise, and allow them to decide once they mature.
“Forcing the children into any religion when one party decides to convert may show a lack of confidence in oneself in practising one’s faith or worse still, show a lack of faith in the attractiveness, beauty and truth in his or her religion,” he said.
Former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said unilateral conversions must be prohibited “because it is the humane and right thing to do”.
“Let the child decide his religion when he comes of age,” he said.
Zaid pointed out that there were cases of one parent converting the child to another religion to spite an estranged spouse, adding no one should be allowed to use religion for such a selfish purpose.
MIC Youth chief C. Sivarraajh said the Federal Constitution could not be interpreted to suit the needs of Islamists for the unilateral conversion of children.
“The Constitution clearly states in article 12 (4) that the parents should determine the religion of their kids. To say otherwise, as Jamil Khir has said, is wrong. He is unilaterally interpreting the Constitution to suit his and the needs of Islamists.
“The Federal Constitution is a major piece of legislation aimed at balancing the needs of all the races and religions that make up this multiracial country,” he said.
He said the term “ibu bapa” in the Federal Constitution, dated June 1, 1970, clearly indicates the plural – parents, and not parent.
“The child’s religion should remain as at birth until both parents consent to change it, or the child reaches 18 years old and he or she then decides,” he said.
Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism vice-president Jagir Singh said if a single parent was allowed to convert a child, it would have the effect of ignoring the constitutional provisions.
“If a single-parent-can-convert-a-child approach is taken, then this matter will persist even for the next 100 years, with justice being denied to the non-converting spouse and the matter can never be put to rest,” he said.
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