Government must resolve the protracted issue of unilateral religious conversion of children
3 January 2016
We are extremely disappointed that the judiciary has once again failed to uphold the constitutional rights of M. Indira Gandhi, thus leaving non-Muslim individuals in similar predicament with no recourse to justice.
On 30 December 2015, the Court of Appeal in a 2-1 decision reversed the ground breaking High Court decision that quashed the unilateral conversion of her children to Islam by her estranged husband.
Although the dissenting view of Hamid Sultan Abu Backer JCA is very much welcomed, the majority Court of Appeal effectively abandoned its duty to put an end to this protracted sorry state of affairs by viewing the case through “religious” prism and deferring Indira’s legal battle to the Syariah Court.
This is clearly preposterous as Indira will not be able to obtain justice due to the simple fact that the Syariah Court has no jurisdiction over a non-Muslim. In addition, the Syariah Court has no jurisdiction to determine the constitutionality of the conversion which is still in dispute, as it is an inferior court.
Indira’s case is unfortunately one of the many instances where conversion to Islam by one spouse is being used in a very unfair manner in order to win custodial disputes. The unilateral conversion of children to any religion is clearly unconstitutional and certainly adverse to the best interest of the children which should be the court’s paramount concern.
In 2009, the Cabinet reportedly issued a directive banning unilateral conversion of children and announced that in the event of any dispute, a child must be raised in the faith professed by parents at the time of marriage. However, the directive remains merely a lip service as efforts at amending relevant laws such as the Law Reform (Marriage & Divorce) Act 1976 appears to have been shelved despite the urgency and gravity of the issue.
We call upon the Government to urgently amend the relevant laws to resolve and provide a permanent and just solution to end the unconstitutional unilateral conversion of children to any religion.
Lawyers for Liberty
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