Malaysian mother’s battle sparks reform against ‘child snatching’ cases

Source: FMT News

The proposed reforms seek to outlaw conversion by one parent, which advocates say will safeguard a mother's equal access to custody rights and quell unease among religious minorities. Pic from FMT News.

The proposed reforms seek to outlaw conversion by one parent, which advocates say will safeguard a mother’s equal access to custody rights and quell unease among religious minorities. Pic from FMT News.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian kindergarten teacher Indira Gandhi last saw her infant daughter in 2009 before her estranged husband snatched the 11-month-old away after an argument.

“I thought he would return in one or two days with (her). I never thought this was going to happen, I was devastated,” the 41-year-old said.

Indira is one of several women whose husbands converted to Islam in Muslim-majority Malaysia, before secretly converting their children and then applying for custody of them in an Islamic court.

As a Hindu, Indira is unable to challenge his bid in the Islamic court because she is not a Muslim.

Now the Malaysian parliament, spurred by her case, is considering legislative reforms to stop such cases of secret conversion, sometimes dubbed “child snatching”.

Campaigners say it is a strategy mostly used by husbands seeking an upper hand in custody battles. Read more

Constitution must be amended first, say Shariah lawyers

Source: The Malay Mail Online

The issue of unilateral conversions have raised controversy when M. Indira Gandhi faced lengthy court battles to gain custody and reverse the unilateral conversion of her children by her Muslim convert ex-husbands. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

The issue of unilateral conversions have raised controversy when M. Indira Gandhi faced lengthy court battles to gain custody and reverse the unilateral conversion of her children by her Muslim convert ex-husbands. ― Picture by Saw Siow Feng

PETALING JAYA, Nov 23 — A proposed amendment of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce Act) must be preceded by an amendment to the Federal Constitution, say Shariah lawyers.

Faisalludin Mohamat Yusuff agreed with the overall proposal but said including Section 88A, a new clause, was unconstitutional.

“Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution states the religion of a child under the age of 18 years shall be decided by one of his or her parents or guardian,” he said.

“The proposed amendment states the consent of both parents is needed to decide on the child’s  religion, but the Constitution states only one parent is needed.”

Faisalludin said an alternative method could be used to decide a minor’s religious status such as mediation or negotiation.

However, he agreed with allowing the converted Muslim party in a marriage to apply for divorce and have other matters resolved in the civil court.

Faisalludin said custodial rights could also be decided by the civil court even if the child had been converted to Islam but was cared for by a non-Muslim parent. Read more

Changes to Act tabled

Source: The Star Online

dewan_rakyat_signpost_2015_-_parliament_reportKUALA LUMPUR: Any spouse from a civil marriage who becomes a Muslim will no longer be allowed to unilaterally convert the children to Islam, under amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act.

A new section will be introduced to make it clear that the children’s faith will remain that of the religion of both parents prior to the conversion.

Any conversion to Islam of children below age 18 will be allowed only if both parents agree to it. Otherwise, the children decide their own faith once they turn 18.

The amendments were tabled for first reading at the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

It came about after a number of contentious cases, including one where a Hindu wife faced custody battles and a multitude of problems when her husband became a Muslim and converted their children.

These amendments, which will have a retrospective effect once the Bill is passed, will be debated next year as the current meeting will end on Thursday. Read more

Indira, lawyers hail proposed law against unilateral child conversions

Source: The Malay Mail Online

File picture showing M. Indira Gandhi (left) with her lawyers M. Kulasegaran (centre) and Aston Paiva. — Picture by Melissa Chi

File picture showing M. Indira Gandhi (left) with her lawyers M. Kulasegaran (centre) and Aston Paiva. — Picture by Melissa Chi

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 — A Hindu mother, whose interfaith custody battle became the personification of the problem, today lauded Putrajaya’s proposal to legally ban unilateral child conversions that would prevent ordeals such as her own.

De facto law minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said today submitted the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill that proposes to prevent single spouse conversions to Islam from unilaterally affecting either civil marriages or the children born from these.

“I’m so happy that finally the much awaited Bill has been amended,” M. Indira Gandhi, who has been locked in such a tussle for nearly seven years, told Malay Mail Online.

“It’s a relief and citizens of Malaysia will applaud the move by our government,” she said via text message.

Indira, who has been battling to get custody of her children since 2009, said the government is moving in the right direction with the proposed amendments.

“Hopefully it can be the answer in many prayers,” she added.

The new Bill, which also specifically addressed the “Religion of a Child” in civil marriages where one spouse has converted to Islam, said that the child will remain in the religion of the parents at the time of marriage until the child is 18 years old, when he many choose his own religion. Read more

Govt tables bill to end unilateral conversion to Islam

Source: FMT News

M. Indira Gandhi (left) and S. Deepa are the focus of custody battles involving their former husbands who are Muslim converts. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, February 23, 2016.

M. Indira Gandhi (left) and S. Deepa are the focus of custody battles involving their former husbands who are Muslim converts. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, February 23, 2016.

KUALA LUMPUR: Putrajaya today tabled an amendment to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act which will put an end to the unilateral conversion of minors.

The proposed amendment was tabled by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said for first reading at the Dewan Rakyat this morning.

The key point in the proposed amendment was that it will be applied retrospectively for any cases still pending in courts under this Act.

The amendment specifically states the need for both parties in a civil marriage to give consent for their child to be converted to Islam. This enactment thus challenges a previous judgment in court that the word “parent” in existing laws could be taken to mean only one parent’s consent was needed. Read more

Nazri: Divorce law reforms will end unilateral child conversions

Source: The Malay Mail Online

M. Indira Gandhi (left) and S. Deepa are the focus of custody battles involving their former husbands who are Muslim converts. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, February 23, 2016.

M. Indira Gandhi (left) and S. Deepa are the focus of custody battles involving their former husbands who are Muslim converts. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, February 23, 2016.

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 2 ― Putrajaya’s planned legal reforms for divorce cases involving non-Muslims and Muslim converts will resolve the thorny issue of unilateral child conversions, federal minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said.

Nazri said that the proposed reforms will essentially see the Cabinet abiding by its April 2009 decision which requires both parents’ consent before a child of civil marriage can be converted to another religion.

He added that the Bill to amend the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 will ensure that all divorce cases involving couples married under civil law be heard by the civil courts, even if one of the couples converts to Islam after the marriage.

“Once you amend the Act it will lead to, and certainly be a solution for, the issue of unilateral conversion by one parent in the future.

“When we do this amendment, in the future it will resolve issues like the Indira Gandhi (case),” Nazri told Malay Mail Online in an exclusive interview recently. Read more

G25: Restore original wording in Constitution to end unilateral conversion conflict

Source: The Malay Mail Online

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 28 ― Putrajaya should amend a 14-year-old printer’s mistake in the Federal Constitution that is the root of conflict between the civil and Shariah courts on interfaith child custody disputes, the G25 Muslim group said today.

The group comprising former senior civil servants including members of the judiciary pointed out in a statement that Article 12 (4) of the Federal Constitution, which dealt with a proviso on conversion of minors had been arbitrarily changed in newer editions after 2002, which altered its original meaning.

The group said the original Bahasa Malaysia translation for the Federal Constitution proviso ― which was in English ― had indicated that consent from both parents were required in deciding a child’s religion, but the word “atau” [meaning “or”] was inserted after 2002 that indicated either a mother or a father could decide on their offspring’s faith.

The group further highlighted that the revision was not followed up with the necessary amendment through Parliament.

“In the meantime, we would also urge the Government to rectify the mistake made by the Government Printers in the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Federal Constitution and restore the translation of ‘parent’ to the original ‘ibu bapa’,” G25 said. Read more

Divorce law reform leaves Hindu moms in custody row with mixed feelings

Source: The Malay Mail Online

M. Indira Gandhi (left) and S. Deepa are the focus of custody battles involving their former husbands who are Muslim converts. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, February 23, 2016.

M. Indira Gandhi (left) and S. Deepa are the focus of custody battles involving their former husbands who are Muslim converts. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, February 23, 2016.

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 27 — Hindu mothers S. Deepa and M. Indira Gandhi have reportedly expressed mixed feelings over the recently announced amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

In a report by The Star Online, S. Deepa applauded the move but M. Indira Gandhi expressed her doubts, with both embroiled in lengthy legal battles over their children’s custody following their ex-husbands’ conversion into Islam.

“My prayers have finally been answered,” Deepa, currently a waitress, told the portal.

The 32-year-old woman, whose ex-husband unilaterally converted their two children into Islam, said she was happy that others would receive justice although she herself has “lost” her son.

“I lost everything … my hairdressing salon business, my house and I even had to leave my family, friends and hometown of Jelebu because of the case.

“I am still struggling to make ends meet in a place alien to me but at least others will not suffer what I went through,” she added.

On February 10, the Federal Court granted Deepa granted custody of the couple’s 11-year old daughter Sharmila, also called Nur Nabila, while her ex-husband Izwan Abdullah got custody of their eight-year-old son Mithran, also called Nabil, after the judges interviewed the children. Read more

Government urged to address issue of unilateral conversion

Source: The Malay Mail Online

S. Deepa speaks to members of the media at the Federal Court in Putrajaya. — Picture by Yusoff Mat Isa

S. Deepa speaks to members of the media at the Federal Court in Putrajaya. — Picture by Yusoff Mat Isa

PETALING JAYA — The government’s move to give civil courts full jurisdiction in divorce and custody cases involving spouses who convert to Islam has led to discussions on the issue of unilateral conversion.

Lawyer Fahri Azzat, welcoming the announcement on Thursday by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, said the proposed amendments had taken a long time coming as the idea was first discussed in 2009.

“Firstly, the general idea that the converting spouse should be held accountable under civil law is an excellent notion,” he said.

Fahri said this could resolve the issue of conflicting orders such as was the case with his client S. Deepa who obtained a civil order in the custody battle over her two children with her former husband, Izwan Abdullah, obtaining a Shariah court order.

However, he was wary of the issue of unilateral conversion in which the converting spouse had the right to convert his/her child.

Fahri believed children should have the right to decide even before they become majors.

Najib had said the government will table a bill amending the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 when Parliament resumes in October.

Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham) executive committee member Ivy Josiah, who welcomed the announcement, wants the government to address the issue of unilateral conversion. Read more

Muslim converts should have right to divorce, lawyers’ group says

Source: The Malay Mail Online

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 26 — The Malaysian Shariah Lawyers Association (PGSM) demanded today for the right of Muslim converts to annul civil marriages.

PGSM president Musa Awang pointed out that Section 51 of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 states that if either spouse converts, only the non-converting spouse can file for a petition to dissolve the marriage within three months after the conversion.

Musa said that this is an unfair provision as it seemingly penalises the Muslim convert spouse, who would automatically lose the locus standi to file the petition under the LRA.

“The law must be amended in such a way as to grant the converting spouse to also file the joint petition to annul his or her marriage. Only then this would be a win-win solution,” Musa told Malay Mail Online. Read more