Don’t fear conversion law, public told

(The Star Online) – “Just wait for the minister to mention it in Parliament. It is something we will not have to worry about any more” 

Malaysians have been assured of action taken by the Government to assuage concerns over a controversial clause in the Administration of the Religion of Islam (Federal Territories) Bill 2013.

“Just wait for the minister to mention it in Parliament. It is something we will not have to worry about any more,” said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri.

She said this when asked about the Bill after attending a high-level panel meeting on drug policy and public health yesterday.

Politicians from both sides of the divide, civil society groups and the public have described Section 107(b) of the Bill, which allows a minor to be converted with the consent of only one parent, as unconstitutional.

The Bill was tabled for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat on Wednesday.

If passed by both Houses of Parliament next month, the Bill will repeal the Administration of Islamic Law (Federal Territories) Act 1993.

Separately, Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the Government would be fair to other religions when making amendments to the Bill.

“There will be few amendments to the Bill in tandem with demands by other religions.

“We also have to respect the role of a parent and we can’t force children to follow either the mother or the father who has converted,” he said after opening the Sekolah Izzudin Shah alumni annual general meeting yesterday.

In George Town, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said the matter had been discussed extensively in the Cabinet following a case in Seremban in early June where a 29-year-old Hindu mother claimed that her estranged husband converted their two children, aged five and eight, to Islam without her knowledge in April.

“The Cabinet is clear that there must be fairness and justice for everyone, including non-Muslims, particularly when one parent converts.

“It’s not just about the religion of the child but also custody, alimony and protection for the child,” said Dr Subramaniam after launching the Penang Free School Homecoming Carnival yesterday.

In Kota Kinabalu, Tan Sri Bernard Dompok said the contentious Bill should be withdrawn and instead be discussed within Barisan Nasional first.

The United Pasok Momogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation president said he had asked for the withdrawal of a paper on the Bill from Cabinet discussions because he felt that a Cabinet decision on the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 should be implemented first.

“The Cabinet paper was withdrawn and I am therefore surprised that it (the Bill) is now before Parliament,” added Dompok, the former Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister.

Various groups have argued that the provision is not only unconstitutional but goes against an April 2009 Cabinet decision that children of an estranged couple should remain in the common religion of the parents at the time of marriage should one parent convert.

The then de facto law minister and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz had said that the Cabinet’s decision was made following M. Indira Gandhi’s case where her three children, aged 12, 11 and one, were allegedly converted to Islam by her husband without her consent.

Malaysian Consultative Council Of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism, in a statement, objected to some of the provisions, which it said affected the rights of non-Muslims, created social injustice and went against the spirit of the Federal Constitution.

Meanwhile, an online portal reported PAS’ Kamarudin Jaafar as saying that the Islamist party would treat the Bill carefully, noting that it would affect the lives of all citizens in the country.

“PAS will discuss it and make our stand known. The party has not yet made a definite decision on the Bill,” he said.