Sunday, August 28, 2016

Proposed amendments to Law Reform Act should involve the input and feedback from all stakeholders

Press Statement by M. Kula Segaran, MP for Ipoh Barat and DAP national Vice Chairman in Ipoh on 28th August 2016

Proposed amendments to Law Reform Act should involve the input and feedback from all stakeholders
When launching the national Women's Day celebration yesterday, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib announced that the necessary changes will be made to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 to resolve issues and problems when a spouse converts to Islam.
He said the amendments will be tabled in the next Parliament meeting in October.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement and hope that the amendments will resolve the various long standing issues and problems of conversions and custody.
The issue of custody of children of parents who convert to Islam was first raised in 2009. In reply the then law Minister Datuk Seri Nazri was quoted on 24th April:
“Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri said it was decided in the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday that a spouse who has converted into Islam would also have to fulfill his or her marriage responsibilities according to civil marriage laws.

“Religion should not be used as a tool to escape marriage responsibilities. Conversion is not a ground for the automatic dissolution of a marriage,” he said at a press conference at Parliament building Thursday.
“The children should be brought up in the common religion. For the spouse who intends to convert into Islam, he or she would also have to come clean,” he said.
Nazri said religious conversion must come with the innocent party being protected from being victimised, as well as protection being afforded to the new religion of the converted person.
“Civil marriages have to be resolved according to civil laws. The conversion takes effect on the day of conversion and is not retrospective. “The convert would have to fulfill his or her marriage responsibilities according to civil laws prior to the conversion,” he added.
Nazri also said the Cabinet has instructed the Attorney-General to look at all relevant laws which needed to be amended in line with what has been decided on civil marriage laws and others.”

Since then 3 cabinet Committee were formed to look into and resolve this thorny issue. However, no effective solution was ever proposed.

Indira Gandhi filed various proceedings in court over the last 7 years over the interfaith issues when her children were converted to Islam without her consent or knowledge. Although she got custody of her 3 children in 2010, the last child of the family has not been returned to her as yet. At the same time her ex husband had also obtained a custody order from the syariah court. This is the form of overlapping of Jurisdiction which should be prevented.

Indira Gandhi herself went to Parliament on 28th January 2016 to enquire from the Cabinet committee members the progress of the amendments. She met Datuk Seri Nazri, Datuk Liow Tiong Lai and Tan Sri Joseph Kurup in Parliament house. She was assured that the necessary amendments would be tabled soon. She took it upon herself to speak for the many others who are suffering in silence without a remedy in conversion of children case.

We very much welcome the proposed amendments although it is 7 years late.

As a Member of Parliament, I am unaware what are the proposed amendments that will be tabled. To ensure that the amendments will satisfactorily resolve the long standing disputes, issues and problems, I suggest the draft laws be widely circulated among stake holders like MPs, NGOs and Bar Council. By this manner a more detailed study and feed back could be obtained for a thorough and fair amendments to meet the aspirations of those caught by this saga and that the issue which has caused much hardship to Indira and others could be addressed once and for all.

In the interim, an all party Parliamentary committee could be established to address this issue. This move if it does take place will be a “win win” to all.

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