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Unilateral conversions – 8 years and counting

August 10, 2017

It is time minister Azalina Othman Said advise cabinet task force members to be 'jantan' enough to defend helpless mothers, who are victimised by their cowardly husbands.

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indira-law-1

By Nicole Tan Lee Koon

The saga of Indira Gandhi began with the abduction and conversion of 11-month-old Prasana Diksa, her 12-year-old sister and her 11-year-old brother on April 3, 2009 by their father (converted to Islam on March 11, 2009) using their birth certificates.

This case was one of the few cases that sparked a constitutional crisis pertaining to unilateral conversions across Malaysia.

DAP MP, Kulasegaran has raised this issue in Parliament many times as more often than not, the non-converting spouse has no legal recourse. A high level cabinet committee was formed almost immediately.

In April 2009, the then de facto Law Minister Nazri Aziz stated in Parliament that children of an estranged couple should remain in the religion of the parents at the point of marriage and a cabinet directive was issued to the effect.

As a lawyer who has been fighting for Indira Gandhi, Kulasegaran once again in March 2010 called on Malaysian lawmakers in Parliament to address the issue of problems resulting from unilateral conversions to Islam. However, the Malaysian police refused to execute the civil court orders to restore custody of the child(ren) back to the non-converting parent.

Eight years have passed since the cabinet directive was announced by Nazri and we were elated to find out that Parliament was going to table the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill (LRAA Bill) to ban unilateral conversions on April 6 this year.

Unfortunately, the debate of the said Bill was deferred in order to debate RUU 355, Hadi’s Private Member’s Bill. Even the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill was deferred to give precedence to RUU 355. All the more reason to have more female Members of Parliament.

We contained our elation and waited in trepidation for the LRAA Bill to be tabled on August 9 but our elation was cut short when we found out that the unilateral conversion clause was removed from the LRAA Bill.

Granted that the LRAA Bill is a major step forward in that the father cannot hide behind the Shariah court anymore and that the Bill has a retrospective effect which is unprecedented.

However, we have strong reason to believe that the ultras in the cabinet objected to the inclusion of the unilateral conversion clause and a deal was made for the ultras to agree to the adoption of the Bill.

It was also reported to be an unanimous cabinet decision. The very same cabinet who issued the directive against the unilateral conversions of children of estranged couples, who would be raised in the religion prior to conversion.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said rightly said that those who convert to Islam must face the civil courts if they want to dissolve their marriage. Azalina said they should be “jantan” enough to face it.

Nazri came up with a flimsy excuse that the word “parent” in Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution needed to be amended first before we could include the unilateral conversion clause even though Article 160 of the Federal Constitution states that the “words in the singular include the plural and words in the plural include the singular”.

Can I suggest to Azalina to advise all her cabinet colleagues, especially Nazri and cabinet task force members like Liow Tiong Lai, Joseph Kurup, S Subramaniam and Jamil Khir Baharom to be “jantan” enough to defend helpless mothers like Indira, who are victimised by cowardly husbands like K Pathmanathan aka Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, who hide behind the Shariah Court to gain custody of their children by unilaterally converting the religion of their children.

Nicole Tan Lee Koon is DAP Wanita National Executive Committee (NEC) member, DAP Negeri Sembilan State Committee member and Political Secretary to the Member of Parliament for Rasah.

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