PETALING JAYA: The government should recognise the importance of both parents having equal parental rights regarding the religion of their children, says the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia(Suhakam).
In a statement today, the independent statutory body expressed its disappointment over the decision to withdraw a provision in the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016, which would have been an effective solution to the unilateral religious conversion of minors by a parent.
“It is our view that the amendment would have resolved interfaith custody conflicts between Muslim and non-Muslim parents, and established coherent standards for reconciling the principle of the best interests of the child with the constitutional rights of parents in the exercise of the right to freedom of religion,” said Suhakam chairman Razali Ismail.
The bill in question had included a new provision in regard to the religion of the child, with Section 88A(1) stating that if a parent converts to Islam, the religion of the children remains the same unless both parents agree to the conversion of their children.However, the government withdrew it and tabled a fresh bill without the clause.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said said the amendments had to be made to avoid conflict with provisions under the Federal Constitution.
The new bill was passed in the Dewan Rakyat at 12.50am yesterday.
Razali said Suhakam acknowledged the progressive changes found in the amended act, particularly regarding the dissolution of a civil marriage and the distribution of matrimonial assets to interested parties.
“However, the core issue of prohibiting unilateral conversion that has affected so many lives and the future of many children, which earlier the government had wanted to remedy, remains without a solution despite indications from the government to deal with the matter.”
He added that Suhakam believed the remedy to this lay in an amendment to Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution.