Govt tables bill to end unilateral conversion to Islam


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.

The promosed amendment also stipulates that a child will remain in the religion of his/her parents at the time of marriage should one of the spouse later converts to Islam.

However, when the child is 18-years-old, he/she will be allowed to choose his/her own religion.

Unilateral conversions became a hot topic after two Hindu women, M Indira Gandhi and S Deepa were involved in inter-faith custody battles after their ex-husbands converted to Islam and converted their children.

The proposed amendment also stipulates that if both parties in a marriage were of different religions prior to the conversion of one spouse to Islam, the children can choose which religion he or she wishes to practise.

Apart from the issue of unilateral conversions, the bill also addresses the distribution of assets if a convert dies before their non-Muslim partner.

According to the bill, if a Musliom convert dies before the non-Muslim partner, the matrimonial assets shall be distributed by the court to the interested parties.

The civil court also has the right to look into the level of contribution made by the interested parties in terms of monetary and property, or the work put in towards the acquisition of the matrimonial asset or payment in expenses.