PETALING JAYA: Civil rights group Bebas says the National Registration Department (NRD) must heed the Court of Appeal’s landmark ruling today that a child born out of wedlock can take on his or her father’s name in official documents.
In a statement today, it urged the NRD not to appeal the case to the Federal Court but to allow all Muslim children to bear their father’s name in such documents.
It said children whose names were given as “bin/binti Abdullah” prior to today’s judgment should also be allowed to change their names to reflect the decision.
“The NRD must also terminate or expunge the National Registration Department Order 8/2009 about the Procedure of Registering the Birth of Illegitimate Children for Muslim Couples that states that such children can only bear the ‘bin/binti Abdullah’ name,” it added.
Earlier today, the Court of Appeal said the NRD had acted outside its powers when it used the surname “Abdullah” to register a Muslim child born out of wedlock, against the mother’s wish to use the father’s name.
In a written judgment, delivered two months after the court ruled in favour of the parents of the child, it also questioned the practice of adding the surname “bin Abdullah” for such children.
Justice Abdul Rahman Sebli, one of the three members of the bench, said the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1957 (BDRA) makes no distinction between a Muslim child and a non-Muslim child.
“Section 13A(2) does not say that an illegitimate Muslim child must be treated differently from a non-Muslim child when it comes to the registration of a surname,” he wrote.
The child, who was born on April 17, 2010, three days short of the six-month period to legitimise the birth to the couple, was given the surname “Abdullah” based on two fatwas issued by the National Fatwa Committee in 1981 and 2003.
The NRD had refused the parents’ request to use the father’s names in the birth certificate, based on the 1981 fatwa.
According to the 2003 fatwa, meanwhile, an illegitimate child (“anak tak sah taraf”) shall not be surnamed (“tidak boleh dinasabkan”) to the father of the child or to the person who claims to be the father of the child.
However, Abdul Rahman said this was in conflict with Section 13A(2) of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1957 (BDRA), which allows the father of the illegitimate child to make his name the child’s surname.
Bebas said the NRD had no business ceding its authority on any matter to the National Fatwa Council, any religious department or the shariah courts.
“The NRD’s job is that of an official register of births, deaths, citizenship, marriage, divorce and religious status, among others.
“They are not to function as moral police,” it said.
Stressing the duty of government departments to uphold the Federal Constitution and treat all Malaysians equally before the law, Bebas said any circular or government order must be based on civil law, not religious edicts that had not gone through legislative process in Parliament.
“Doing so would be a violation and circumvention of our democracy. Civil law must be the first reference point for any government decision,” it said.