KUALA LUMPUR: The controversy over the unilateral conversion of a child to Islam by a spouse is expected to remain a topic of heated debate after attempts to amend the law took a further twist in Parliament.
The Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 was deferred for the second time since it was tabled in November to resolve the issue.
The decision to withdraw the Bill was announced yesterday by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said shortly after question and answer time.
Azalina, who is minister in charge of law, issued a press statement later saying that a fresh Bill would be tabled today.
The new Bill will not include the proposed Clause 88A which states that the religion of the child “shall remain as the religion of the parties to the marriage prior to the conversion”.
The clause also provides that the child can, after turning 18 and with the consent of both parents, convert to Islam.
However, the fresh Bill is expected to maintain amendments that require a spouse to dissolve the marriage in a civil court when a party has converted.
This right is open to both spouses.
“The amendments needed to be made so that (the Bill) would not be in conflict with provisions under the Federal Constitution,” Azalina said in the statement.
Azalina noted that the fresh amendments would also be in line with court decisions on the interpretation of Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution, which states that the religion of a person below 18 shall be decided by a parent or a guardian.
She said the Government hoped that the fresh amendments would be viewed positively to protect multi-racial principles of the country.
“I hope all parties can support this new Bill without politicising it,” she added.
Moves to amend the law came in the wake of the controversial cases of M. Indira Gandhi and S. Deepa, whose Muslim convert ex-husbands had unilaterally converted their children to Islam.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak assured the public last year that the Cabinet would find ways to resolve interfaith child custody conflicts between Muslim and non-Muslim parents.
Although the Bill was tabled in November, it was deferred in April before being tabled for second reading.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi clarified that the debate on the Bill was deferred following calls by several quarters, including Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria, asking the Government to postpone it.
They claimed that the amendments were against the Constitution.
Civil society groups and several political parties that were supportive of the Bill questioned the deferment, saying that it should not be delayed any further.