SUHAKAM dismayed over Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill

KUALA LUMPUR: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) is disappointed over the decision to withdraw the provision in the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Bill 2016 which, they say, would have been an effective solution to the unilateral religious conversion of minors by a parent.

Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail expressed his dissatisfaction over the withdrawal of the provision which would have "resolved interfaith custody conflicts between Muslim and non-Muslim parents".

"It is our view that the amendment would have resolved interfaith custody conflicts between Muslim and non-Muslim parents; and establish coherent standards for reconciling the principle of the best interest of the child with the Constitutional rights of parents in the exercise of the right to freedom of religion," he said in a press statement.

He stressed that the main issue of the Act still remain unsolved by the government.

"The core issue of prohibiting unilateral conversion that has affected so many lives and the future of many children which earlier the government had wanted to remedy remains without a solution despite indications from the government to deal with the matter," he said.

He called on the government to commit firmly to the issue and recognise that both parents have equal rights and authority in relation to their children's rights, custody and upbringing of their children in the principle of the best interest of the child.

Razali said Suhakam believes the remedy lies in an amendment to Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution.

Article 12(4) of the Federal Constitution says that the religion of a person under the age of eighteen years shall be decided by his parent or guardian.

As such the word parent is defined as mother or father and not parents. Meaning either one party can initiate the conversion of a child.

He however did recognise that some progressive changes were found in the amended act, particularly involving the dissolution of the civil marriage and the distribution of matrimonial assets to interested parties.