04/28/2009, 00.00
INDIA
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Great interest in India over Malaysian ban on converting children

by CT Nilesh
The decision of Malaysia, an Islamic majority country, establishes that children are bound to the religion of their parents at the time of marriage, even if later one of the two becomes Muslim.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - In a nation particularly sensitive to the problem of conversion, the Indian newspapers are giving special emphasis to the decision of government of Malaysia to ban the conversion of children. The decision refers to the case of an Indian Hindu woman, whose husband, after divorce, changed the religious affiliation of their children.

In an attempt to ease interfaith conflicts that have strained race relations in the country, the legal affairs minister of Malaysia, Nazri Aziz, on Thursday banned the conversion of children without the consent of both parents. The predominantly Muslim nation’s decision follows the highly publicized case of a 34-year-old Hindu woman, with the famous name of Indira Gandhi, whose estranged husband embraced Islam and then converted their children to the same religion as well.

The legal affairs minister said that minors were to be bound by the common religion of their parents at the time of marriage, even if one parent were later to become a Muslim. Islamic law would apply only from the point of a person’s conversion to the faith and was not retrospective.

Islam is the official religion in Malaysia but non-Muslims are allowed to practice their faiths. Muslims, who make up about 65% of the country’s population of 27 million, are bound by Islamic family laws, while civil laws, introduced by the British, apply to non-Muslims.

Nazri said the attorney general had been instructed to look at relevant legislation that would need to be amended to effect the decision.

There has been growing unease among Malaysia’s Chinese and Indian ethnic minorities, who are mostly Buddhists, Christians and Hindus, over numerous complaints of discrimination by the authorities when seeking legal redress following cases of divorce and religious conversion.

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