Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Proposal to prevent secret conversions mooted

Koh Jun Lin     Published     Updated

A person converting to Islam should be compelled by law to inform his spouse of this within seven days, says an interfaith group.

These are among the four legal amendments proposed by the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) to resolve issues that arise when one spouse converts to Islam while the other does not.

MCCBCHST vice-president Jagir Singh said the proposed amendment to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 (LRA) would prevent secret conversions.

“This is to take care of situations where the spouse converts in secret and does not inform his family.

“We are proposing that there should be a law making it compulsory for him to inform the non-converting spouse. Within seven days you have to inform that you have converted, otherwise she (the spouse) would be taken by surprise.

“So there should be an obligation placed on the converting spouse to inform the non-converting spouse,” Jagir told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today.

Jagir is also co-chairperson of MCCBCHST’s legal panel.

The group also proposed to add a new subsection to Section 3 of the LRA.

'Civil court should have exclusive jurisdiction'

This subsection is to state that any non-Muslim who has been married under the provisions of the LRA shall continue to be subjected to the provisions, notwithstanding his conversion to Islam.

In addition, the civil court would have exclusive jurisdiction over the marriage, including in making decrees on divorce, as well as custody and access to children born out of that marriage.

Jagir said this was in line with the Federal Court’s decision in the case of Viran Nagapan vs Deepa Subramaniam, which is a landmark unilateral child conversion case.

MCCBCHST also proposed substituting Section 51 of the LRA to read, “Where one party to a marriage has converted to Islam, either party or both parties may petition for divorce.”

Jagir explained that under the status quo, only the non-converting spouse can file for divorce.
 
“So there was a call from syariah lawyers that either party should be allowed to file for divorce,” he said.
Another proposal from the MCCBCHST is for the word ‘parent’ in Article 12(4) to be amended to read ‘parents’.

This provisions provides for a minor's religion to be determined by his or her parent, or guardian.

Jagir said the proposed amendments are to 'harmonise' the text of the Federal Constitution with the 11th Schedule of the constitution, which provides that male pronouns in the constitution shall refer to both the male and female.

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