Bar: Jamil Khir's remark erroneous

PETALING JAYA: Malaysian Bar Council president Christopher Leong described the remarks made by minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom regarding unilateral religious conversion of children as erroneous, unfortunate and regrettable.

He said that the unilateral conversion of minor children to any religion by a parent, without the knowledge or consent of the non-converting parent, creates social injustice, violates the rights of the non-converting parent, and is contrary to our constitutional scheme.

He also cited that the Federal Court in the case of Shamala Sathiayaseelan v Dr Jeyaganesh C Mogarajah & Anor did not make any such decisions.

"on the contrary, the Federal Court had declined to address and make a decision on the issue of whether the unilateral conversion to Islam of the children in question was lawful and constitutional. The case was dismissed by the Federal Court purely on the basis that S. Shamala had absconded from the jurisdiction with the children and was therefore in contempt of court," he added.

"It has to be borne in mind that Article 12 (4) has to be read with Article 160 and the Eleventh Schedule of the Federal Constitution," he said in a statement to media.
Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution provides: "For the purposes of Clause (3), the religion of a person under the age of eighteen years shall be decided by his parent or guardian.

"Article 160, which refers to the Eleventh Schedule states that "words importing the masculine gender include females" and "words in the singular include the plural, and words in the plural include the singular."

"It must be construed as requiring the religion children, whether male or female, under the age of eighteen years to be decided by both parents, in cases where both parents are alive," he said.

Earlier this week, Jamil made a remark in Parliament that based on the decision in the Federal Court in the case of S Shamala, "the consent of just one parent was sufficient to convert the religion of the child because the words used in Article 12 (4) (of the Federal Constitution) is parent or guardian instead of parents or guardians, mean either the father or the mother or a guardian."

The Bar also recalled the Cabinet directive announced in April 2009 through the former de facto Law Minister, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz that the children of an estranged couple should remain in the religion of the parents at the point of their marriage.