Sunday, March 26, 2017

‘Why no priority in pushing marriage and divorce reform bill?’

KUALA LUMPUR: DAP’s Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran is concerned that an important legislative amendment that would address problems on the issue of a married spouse converting to Islam will not be presented in the current sitting of Parliament as has been scheduled.

Kula said there are tell-tale signs that the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) (Amendment) Act 2016 may in fact never be debated and passed.

“The above bill was to be debated this week as it was listed as No. 4 in the Order Paper of Parliament for the last two weeks,” he said in a statement today.

“Now, in the third week of the parliamentary session, it has been pushed down to No. 8. This clearly indicates there is no priority in getting this bill passed,” he added.

The current sitting of the Dewan Rakyat ends on April 6.

The bill was tabled for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said on Nov 21.

It puts in place legal safeguards against unilateral conversions of minors to Islam, and addresses disputes due to dissolution of marriage arising from a conversion by making clear that the couple can divorce in a civil court and not in a shariah court.

Kulasegaran said he had been made to understand there are “powerful people” who want the bill to be withdrawn at all costs.

The DAP vice-chairman said he had been hearing from the grapevine that the bill may not see “the light at the end of the tunnel”.

He urged Prime Minister Najib Razak to keep to his promise on seeing the amendment through and not to give in to “ultras”.

“Any delay in approving the bill, which is already eight years too late, will make many to continue to suffer in silence,” he said, noting that the cabinet had decided in 2009 that unilateral conversion would be banned.

“This bill would have addressed this and many shortcomings surrounding non-Muslim issues,” said Kula, who is also the counsel for M Indira Gandhi, who is challenging the unilateral conversion of her three children by her Muslim convert ex-husband.

He said Najib had given an assurance at the government’s Women’s Day Celebration on Aug 25, 2016, when he said the cabinet had agreed that the amendment would be tabled at the next parliamentary sitting.

Najib had then said the amendment to the law would iron out the problem of overlapping jurisdiction between the civil and shariah courts.

“The decision was made after demands that we resolve the problem… If the couple is married under civil law, then we should settle the divorce under civil law,” Najib had said.

“I believe this is a just move that is in line with what Islam demands of us,” he said in his speech.

Kula added that he had met the presidents of MCA and MIC in the last days of the parliamentary sitting in December 2016 to push for the bill to be approved.

“They assured me there was no hurry as definitely in the next session all will be achieved by passing of the bill,” he said.

“It looks like now both the MCA and MIC presidents have been side-stepped and their assurances has gone down the drain,” he said. “Thus the promise by the PM and his cabinet is just an eye wash.”

Kula questioned why there was a sudden change of mind. “Who is blocking this bill from being debated and passed?”

He said many Malaysians would be disappointed by a move to defer or to withdraw the bill.

“Has the government of the day lost its political will to bring a harmonious life for distressed married couples?”

He added that he was the first to congratulate the government when the bill was tabled in Parliament on Nov 21.

“Many Malaysians are suffering in silence, especially unfortunate children who have been converted to Islam by a parent,” he had said then. “Many are also unable to move on from this predicament and with their lives.”

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