Civil society against forced conversion of minors
With a historic ruling, the Federal Court states that both parents must consent to the change of religion. The Constitution declares that the religion of a person under the age of 18 must be decided by the parent or guardian. Appeal for a clause stating that the religion of a child "should remain the one with which they were raised before the conversion of one of the parents".
Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews / Agencies) - After a 14-month trial, on January 29, the highest Malaysian court rendered the unilateral conversion of the three sons of a Hindu mother, Indira Gandhi, null and void, establishing that both parents must give consent to the change of religion of a minor.
This constitutes an important legal precedent for the nation. Still underage and without their consent or that of their mother, the three children had been converted to Islam in 2009 by their father, a few weeks after becoming a Muslim. The man then fled, taking his youngest daughter, of only nine months at the time. Mrs. Gandhi has not seen her since. The children are now 20, 19 and 9 years old.
The High Court of Ipoh, capital of Perak State, had previously canceled the conversion, but the father, Mohd Riduan Abdullah, appealed. A legal battle ensued for custody, which civil courts assigned to Ms. Gandhi, while the Sharia courts sided with Riduan. In 2014, the police did not comply with the civil court order to arrest the man, citing the legal conflict as the reason for their refusal. Malaysia practices a two-track legal system with issues such as those relating to family and marriages falling under the jurisdiction of Islamic courts. However, cases like this have led to "gray" legal areas.
The ruling was welcomed by local and international organizations, including UNICEF. "This decision is in line with the principle of 'best interests of the child', supported by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child," says regional representative Marianne Clark-Hattingh. "Unilateral conversions eventually destroy families and the resulting custody battles are often long and painful for all concerned, especially the children themselves."
However, the president of the Malaysian Muslim Lawyers' Association, Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar, says that the decision of the Federal Court is "very sad" and not consistent with previous deliberations on the matter. "However, we must accept this decision because it is taken by a competent court. The Muslim community will have to wait for another case to be heard, so this judgment will be put aside, "says Zainul Rijal Abu Bakar.
Following the Federal Court's verdict, Malaysian Prime Minister Seri Najib Tun Razak said on January 30 that the government could consider changing the law to align it with the ruling. The Kuala Lumpur government hypothesis receives strong support from Malaysian moderates, lawyers and politicians. They consider it appropriate to reintroduce a specific article to the Law on Marriage and Divorce Reform (LRA). Clause 88A states that the religion of a child "must remain the one with which he was raised before the conversion of one of the parents" and that the child can, after having turned 18 and with the consent of father and mother, convert to Islam.
In Malaysia the Constitution states that Islam is a state religion and 61.3% of the population declares itself Muslim. Article 12, paragraph 4 of the Charter states that the religion of a person under the age of 18 must be decided by their parent or guardian.